«My blessing goes to all the children in the world
The longest night of my life
by Fr. Andrea D’Ascanio ofm cap
That September 24th 1968 spent in San Giovanni Rotondo next to the corpse of Padre Pio of Pietralcina was the longest and most bitter night of my life. Only then did I realize how much he had become an active part of my existence and I completely felt the bewilderment of someone who had lost his father, that father.
At the end of the wake, I found myself beside an elderly priest, with gentle and clear eyes, feeble and almost fragile in the dark habit of the Minim Friars. Very humble in all his ways, he managed to hide his strong personality behind a facade of graceful and tender refinement, beyond which it was difficult to penetrate. Only the rare twinkling of his amazing blue eyes revealed the powerful determination of an eagle in the humble candour of a dove.
When he told me his name, I remembered that I had heard about him and I remembered what Padre Pio of Pietralcina thought about him: «Padre Pio Dellepiane (of the plains)? No, Padre Pio… of the peaks!»
Only later on did I realize that that night Padre Pio of Pietralcina had given me his last gift, the most important one, by not leaving me orphaned but entrusting my soul to another Padre Pio, to another himself.
When Padre Pio Delle piane was transferred from Rimini to Rome, as the superior of the convent of Madonna della Luce, I had the chance to meet him very often. He wanted me to come and see him every time I went to Rome, and it was difficult to escape his kind hospitality.
In almost every encounter – remembering the shepherd children of Fatima and what the Blessed Virgin had asked them – he always talked about the need to make children pray and to create Children’s Prayer Nests.
He wanted me to go to Fatima with him in July 1972, to take part in a week of spirituality organized by some of Padre Pio of Pietralcina’s spiritual children. During the trip he took the microphone, although he had always been very shy, to urge everyone to make children pray.
Then he invited me to participate in a pilgrimage that his prayer group of Madonna della Luce made to Collevalenza, to the sanctuary of Gesù Misericordioso created by Mother Speranza. On the bus, he took the microphone and again started to talk about the need to create Children’s Prayer Nests. But this time he added a new note: «Priests, he said, must make children pray». I was the only priest there… and I asked him jokingly if he really meant me, if by chance he wanted me to devote myself to this apostolate among children. He answered with a serious and forceful tone of voice, but one full of bitterness: «It’s urgent and necessary… it’s already too late».
I felt, in those few words – it wasn’t my habit to waste them – all the anxiety and discouragement of a prophet who isn’t listened to, of the saint who isn’t understood.
When I went back to Bagnella di Omegna (NO), I started to review all my biblical knowledge from this new perspective. I gathered information on the last Marian apparitions in which the main characters were children; I started to approach the pupils of a few elementary schools and talk to them about the shepherd children of Fatima.
The enthusiasm with which the fifth grade children of Sister Stefania, in Borgomanero (NO), accepted the message of Fatima encouraged me to repeat the experiment wherever the occasion arose: in Taranto, Aquila, Sulmona, Mafalda, Ischia, Torre de’ Passeri, Manduria; wherever the children said a generous «yes» to our Mother’s invitation, by consecrating themselves to Her and promising to pray the Rosary.
The photocopier wasn’t good enough anymore to join the children of the various Nests; the need and idea arose to print a booklet in the print shop.
I spoke about it to Padre Pio, who was already living at his sister’s house because of his illness: he was enthusiastic about it, and he established its format, the number of pages and the topics to be discussed. When I brought him the first drafts and read them to him, we realized that a page remained blank. After a moment of thought he said: “I would like to insert the consecration of families to the Heart of Jesus and Mary”. His sister Emilia gave me the leaflets with the formula he used and we printed it on the back cover; then, by the express wish of Padre Pio, we included it again in each issue. On this occasion he also gave his blessing to the children of the Prayer Nests.
When, with the help of Father Vittorio Narducci, Giuseppe, Mariella, the youth of Sulmona and some teachers, we started to approach children on a wider scale, we always went to him first to point out the various problems and to receive instructions. He always gave the same answer to every question: «Our Lady… Our Lady will take care of it…» and, smiling at our little faith, he added: «Our Lady will precede you, Our Lady will accompany you, Our Lady will follow you».
Frankly, we all testify that what we have done and are doing is not our work; at times we had the feeling that we were following a fixed path, as if we were walking on tracks. Our Lady… always, only, everywhere Our Lady. When, during the last moments of his life, I asked him to leave us with a thought as his will, he only said: «Our Lady…». The same inheritance of the dying Jesus, the same as Padre Pio of Pietralcina.
In the last Mass we concelebrated on the morning of the Immaculate Conception, four days before his death, at the moment of the offertory I promised him to do everything possible to convey the message of the Virgin Mary to all the children in the world. However, I set the condition that it be him, in me, guiding Our Lady’s Armata Bianca. His eyes lit up and with an emotional smile he agreed many times. And he smiled again when I told him that on that day, Fr. Vittorio was in Giulianova (TE) for the consecration of fifty children to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and that we put the offering of that “yes” into his hands, so that he would present it to Our Mother when he entered into Heaven.
And «all the children of the Prayer Nests» were there, around him, in the white roses and snow-white lilies that Christian, a five-year-old boy, brought to him from Pescara. An expression of their purity and love.
That last night was so tender, with Christian who fell asleep next to his great friend, in his mother’s arms. I saw in Chris all the children of the world who would accept Padre Pio’s gift of love: «Our Lady…love Our Lady…give yourselves to Our Lady…».
I have written this to bear witness to the Truth: whatever good Our Lady has done and will do with the Children’s Prayer Nests is thanks to Padre Pio Dellepiane, the fruits of his life which was consumed for the triumph of Love of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
I ask him for the grace to end my life in the same witness of Love and total faithfulness to God: «EVERYTHING…, his last words, uttered from his paralyzed throat, after three hours of spasms, …FOR … THE GLORY OF ….OUR LORD …. JESUS CHRIST!»
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Padre Pio Dellepiane died in Rome on December 12, 1976. The process of beatification began in 1990 and the diocesan phase ended in 1998. The Servant of God is now buried in the Roman Basilica of S. Andrea delle Fratte, where Our Lady of Miracles appeared to the Jewish Ratisbonne. The cause of beatification is still underway. At the canonical identification his body was uncorrupted.