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They call them the "Secret Vatican Files": In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI opened access to the records up until the year 1939 of what had been known as the Holy Office.

That edict made possible an examination of the Vatican's most fascinating "inside" information on a myriad of topics, including the deepest, most in-depth information on a Capuchin priest named Padre Pio from the east of the country known as the Gargano.

As it turns out, there are some real blockbusters in those once-secret records.

Although no one expected much to emerge that wasn't known about this stigmatic who has been the subject of countless books, documentaries, articles, and commentaries, fresh and surprising information has in fact emerged -- along with a new phenomenon not previously or at least widely associated with him.

"After studies, debates, and interviews, we thought we knew everything about him," writes Father Francesco Castelli in the astonishing new book, Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files. "Buried among archived papers was a document of extraordinary importance, which now comes back from the past: the Acts of the first inquiry on Padre Pio ordered by the Holy Office. The document dates back to 1921, and contains the Capuchin's secret revelations -- six valuable depositions [interviews with Padre Pio], given under oath before an Inquisitor of the Holy Office. In them Padre Pio, reveals facts and phenomena never related to anyone, told his autobiography in  person, and handed it over to the Church and to history."

Among the revelations: in addition to the mystical wonders of stigmata, visions, the odor of sanctity, bilocation, reading of souls, healing, prophecy, and so forth, Pio also exhibited the phenomenon of "hyperthermia" -- ran temperatures so high that they burst a thermometer and they had to resort to use of a horse thermometer. That was discovered during an Apostolic Visitation by a Bishop Inquisitor named Monsignor Raffaello Carlo Rossi, who approached the matter with scientific indifference, expressing no initial belief in nor affinity for the monk he was called to investigate.

When he interviewed the superior of the convent, Father Lorenzo of San Marco, Bishop Rossi learned that Father Lorenzo had personally witnessed Padre Pio with fevers of 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit, then 113 degrees, and finally a mind-boddling and sizzling 118.4 degrees -- way beyond what causes fatality in normal humans.

Indeed, normal body temperature is 98 to 100 degrees. A temperature of 107 degrees for several hours is known to kill even healthy teenagers.

Yet Father Lorenzo -- also initially a skeptic of Pio's mystical manifestations -- recorded them personally.

The hyperthermia, notes Father Castelli, was described as "another of the facts which, if validated, 'would be most astonishing, like something miraculous,' since it is well known that the human body doesn't seem capable of reaching such high temperature. But in Padre Pio's case, it has happened more than once, and for a few years now, and Father Lorenzo, the superior, who was extremely dubious about it -- as he was about the rest -- had to convinced himself of the reality of it when the proof occurred in front of his very eyes and in his very hands. St. Pio himself described the experience as a "moral, rather than a physical, illness" and said it was like he was "in a furnace, still always conscious" -- and in fact able to go about the normal course of business.

"In fact," says Castelli, "a brother attests that even under the strain of this fever, Padre Pio is not knocked down, but gets up, moves about, and can do everything."

The investigator was also greatly puzzled by how little Padre Pio ate -- often just a cup of hot chocolate for dinner or a glass of beer and virtually nothing the rest of the day, despite an overwhelmingly vigorous schedule. Many days, he did not even take the dinner nourishment.

So closely was Padre Pio scrutinized that Monsignor Rossi even timed how long Pio spent elevating the chalice (two minutes -- which the monsignor thought warranted criticism!).

Forcing Pio to uncover his hands and show the stigmatic "signs," the skeptical Rossi observed that blood stuck on the gloves and as a result it was obviously difficult for the monk to take them off -- although he did so obediently. The inquisitor stuck his own finger into one of Pio's hand wounds and later noted with evident astonishment: "The stigmata are there: We are before a real fact -- it is impossible to deny." Castelli notes that Pio's stigmata seemed different than that of Saint Francis, whose wounds had the look of fleshy excrescences [outgrowths] where Pio's showed no apparent opening or breaking up of the tissue. The Bishop Inquisitor had no choice but to draw a conclusion "fully in favor of their authenticity, and, in fact, of their Divine origin."

Have atheists ever really searched these things out?

If they did -- if they did not simply and conveniently refuse to even investigate phenomena like that of St. Pio's -- atheists they would be no longer.

[Next: the phenomenon (and it wasn't stigmata) that seemed to most impress the Vatican Inquisitor]

[resources: Padre Pio Under Investigation: the Secret Vatican Files]

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