Padre Pio has a close connection with Philadelphia because of a woman called in a prayer to bring her sick child to see him in 1968 and the blessing he granted that led to her miracle cure just a few weeks before he died.
The woman, Mrs. Vera Calandra of Norristown, PA. brought her daughter, Vera Marie, to meet the friar in Italy, where he placed his wounded hands on the child and caused the miracle the Vatican would later use to confirm Padre Pio as a saint.
The family raised money and helped to build a shrine in honor of the man in Barto, PA. I visited there and watched a film narrated by Robert Stack of television’s black and white presentation of “The Untouchables.” The movie told the history of the Calandra family and how the child’s blessing lead to the miracle that doctors at CHOP, the Children’s’ Hospital of Philadelphia, could not explain in medical terms.
Vera Marie was born in 1966 with congenital defects of the kidneys and urinary tract, according to medical records. After two years and several operations, her doctors told her mother that the child was not going to live.
Mrs. Calandra prayed to Padre Pio and one day she experienced the fragrance of fresh roses and then heard his voice telling her to bring Vera Marie to Italy to visit. On September 1, 1968, Vera and her ill daughter arrived at Padre Pio’s church where he blessed her.
The doctors had removed Vera Marie’s bladder during one of the many operations she had undergone prior to her pilgrimage to Padre Pio. Their discovery upon her return was a “rudimentary bladder” growing in place of the one they had removed.
In other words, it was a miracle!
It couldn’t have come at any better time because the holy man died on September 23, 1968, just three weeks after his blessing.
I remember making my way to the cathedral-like shrine off of Route 100, just north of Bey’s Crystal Shop. After saying prayers and marveling at the beautiful statues adorned in the building. I particularly liked those depicting St. Michael the Archangel who was Padre Pio’s favorite. I visited the museum where there are enlarged photos of the friar as well as one of the beds that he had slept in.
They even had a replica of an Italian Fiat roadster the sainted man sat in while being escorted from his home to bless those in a nearby hospital.
It was in the gift shop, however, that I received my most blessed surprise. A woman in her early 40s was waiting on a customer. She was pointed out to me by someone who knew her.
It was Vera Marie in full blossom helping pilgrims like myself to commemorate our visit to such a site. Her miracle was one of two the Vatican used when it cannonized Padre Pio making him a saint.
She laughed when she saw me kneeling and asked me to rise while giving me a big hug, one of which I will always cherish and remember.
How often can one say they actually embraced a miracle baby?