Open God's heart with prayer, pope tells Padre Pio Prayer Groups

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Praying is not like taking an aspirin,
something one does just to feel a little better, Pope Francis told thousands of
members of Padre Pio Prayer Groups from around the world.

Prayer is not a business negotiation with God, either, the
pope told more than 60,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square Feb. 6. Prayer
is a “work of spiritual mercy,” a time to entrust everything to the
heart of God, he said.

The pilgrims were in Rome for the Year of Mercy and a week
of special events that included veneration of the relics of St. Padre Pio and
St. Leopold Mandic, both Capuchin friars who often spent more than 12 hours a
day hearing confessions.

Although many faithful believe the body of Padre Pio, who
died in 1968, is incorrupt, church officials have never made such a claim. When
his body was exhumed in 2008, church officials said it was in “fair
condition.” Chemicals were used to ensure its long-term preservation and
the face was covered with a silicone mask.

Pushed through the center of Rome Feb. 5 in glass coffins on
rolling platforms, the relics of Padre Pio and St. Leopold were escorted by
Italian military police, dozens of Capuchin friars and thousands of faithful.

When the procession reached St. Peter’s Square — the
boundary of Vatican City State — the Italian police stood at attention and the
Swiss Guard took over the honor-guard duties. Cardinal Angelo Comastri,
archpriest of St. Peter’s, welcomed the relics, blessed them with incense and
accompanied them into St. Peter’s Basilica where they were to stay for
veneration until Feb. 11.

At the papal audience, joining members of the Padre Pio
Prayer Groups from around the world were staff members of the hospital he
founded, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering),
whose work is supported by the prayers and donations of the prayer groups.

Pope Francis told them that their devotion to Padre Pio
should help them rediscover each day “the beauty of the Lord’s forgiveness
and mercy.”

With his long hours in the confessional, the pope said,
“Padre Pio was a servant of mercy and he was fulltime, carrying out the
‘apostolate of listening’ even to the point of fainting.”

“The great river of mercy” that Padre Pio
unleashed, he said, should continue through the prayers and, especially, the
willingness to listen and to care for others shown by members of the prayer

If prayer were just about finding a little peace of mind or
obtaining something specific from God, then it would basically be motivated by
selfishness: “I pray to feel good, like I’d take an aspirin,” the
pope said.

“Prayer, rather, is a work of spiritual mercy that
carries everything to the heart of God” and says to him, “You take
it, you who are my father.”

Padre Pio, he said, used to tell people prayer is “a
key that opens God’s heart.”

“God’s heart is not armored with all sorts of security
measures,” the pope said. “You can open it with a common key —

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