News item: After preparing for the lead role as a Capuchin friar in a movie about Padre Pio, actor Shia LaBeouf claims to have become a devotee of the Christian mystic who, in 2002, was canonized into sainthood.
Padre Pio will premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week, just two weeks before Pio Feast Day on September 23rd, the date on which Saint Pio passed into eternity at age 81 in 1968.
“Pio saved my life,” Mr. LaBeouf, 36, told Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in an interview posted on YouTube. “The task is to play one of the most spiritual men that ever lived. If you like immersive experiences and you get tasked with playing Pio, your life is going to change.”
The actor, who grew up in Santa Ynez, had earlier hit rock bottom due to public scandals over sexual battery allegations and rehab for alcoholism. “Nobody wanted to talk to me, including my mother,” said Mr. LaBeouf. He credits Pio with saving him from thoughts of suicide. “I had a gun on the table. I didn’t want to be alive anymore. Shame like I had never experienced before. I had nowhere to go, this was the last stop on the train.”
This type of spiritual pathway, hitting rock bottom, is known as adamic ecstasy.
Mr. LaBeouf’s conversion will come as no surprise to those familiar with St. Pio, around whose legend a 6,000 seat, 65,000 square foot shrine (which houses his tomb) was constructed in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy where, for most of his life Pio, born Francesco Forgione, lived a spartan existence as a monk.
Abel Ferrara, the movie’s 71-year-old Bronx-born director, best known for Bad Lieutenant (a 1992 flick starring Harvey Keitel), cast Mr. LaBeouf at the suggestion of Willem Dafoe, who also appears in the film. Says Mr. Ferrara, “He [Shia] is the kind of actor that the next minute jumps in his pick-up truck and he’s driving to a monastery in California.”
(In fact, Mr. LaBeouf spent several months in a Capuchin monastery in northern California prepping for this role. “When I got there,” says the actor, “a switch happened,” meaning a switch in his mind that changed his perspective on life. While filming in Rome, Shia—as is his acting style—totally immersed himself into everything Padre Pio, including the use of a bed in which Pio had slept.)
Mr. Ferrara’s father was born near Pio’s hometown of Pietrelcina, 20 miles from Naples; he has been living and working the past couple decades In Italy. The plot of his film focuses on Pio’s arrival at the monastery in 1916 followed four years later by the “Massacre of San Giovanni Rotondo” in which 14 people were killed when police opened fire on a crowd of socialists who had just won the mayoral election, had the result denied to them by the ruling class (church leaders and landowners) and in defiance attempted to install the true victor at the municipal building.
The ensuing conflict—along with rampant poverty —led to the spread of fascism throughout Italy.
A practicing Buddhist now celebrating ten years of sobriety, Mr. Ferrara has dedicated his movie to the victims of that massacre along with the people of Ukraine. “I thought the confluence between the massacre and Pio’s stigmata both happening at the same place at the same time…” he explained to the Associated Press. “I mean, how can you not make a movie about that? What I’m looking at is a rerun of World War II. Seventy-five million people died 70 years ago. It’s happening right here in front of our eyes. You’re looking at the end of the world.”
Rave reviews have already appeared for the trailer alone. States one, “We can already see the actor’s convincing depiction of the much-admired friar… the viewer gets a spine-tingling glimpse of Padre Pio’s life and the challenges he had to contend with as a stigmatist while a world war raged.”
One person who might not have given it a thumb’s up is Padre Pio himself, who was known to have a low opinion of television and the movies, believing it destroyed family life. He refused to watch the friary’s only television set and once said, “The devil is in the cinema.”
As far as I know, the closest my father ever got to spirituality was his connection to Padre Pio, who suffered stigmata (bleeding wounds) continuously for 60 years and was known for his power of prayer to heal those in need.
My dad’s unique attachment to Pio came late in life to him, around the age of 70—and it may explain why he seemed at greater peace with himself the last 15 years of his life.
As a painter and sculptor, one of my father’s creative passions was portraiture, for which he developed his own expressionist style, often unappreciated by unsuspecting subjects.
Commuting between homes in London and Monaco, he produced art in both venues and was never happier than when at work inside his studio. (This was the lesson he conveyed: “Take the time to cultivate a talent that exists within you because it will provide serenity in old age.”)
During their many years in Monaco, my parents made friends with Luigi, the sweet-natured custodian of their apartment building. Luigi suffered a variety of nervous ailments including claustrophobia and every so often needed convalescence in a sanatorium. His anxieties led to a heart condition, which eventually required surgical angioplasty. Fearing the worst, Luigi asked my father to paint a small portrait for him of someone called Padre Pio so he could have it near him during the operation.
My father replied, "Of course, Luigi. But I've never heard of Padre Pio and I've no idea what he looks like. I’m happy to do it if you bring me a photograph."
This was easy for Luigi as he, like many Italians, are devoted to Pio, whose prayer card, and other such amulets, they carry with them. Or, as movie director Abel Ferrara puts it, “He is an iconic figure, on the back of every truck. He’s the saint of every drug dealer in Naples.”
My father was born in the Bronx to a Jewish family that emigrated to America from Poland/Russia in 1913, probably to escape religious oppression. He did not grow up in a religious environment; certainly, none of the traditions of his heritage were handed down to him, or to me.
Luigi presented my father with a photograph of Pio and explained that pilgrims traveled from all parts of the world to visit the Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo, where Pio had lived a humble existence in a monastery. (As a monk, he existed in a small, sparse cell in which, Pio claimed, he engaged in active combat with the devil most nights, emerging, come morning, bruised and bloodied—in addition to the blood that continually streamed from the palms of his hands and feet.)
Even in death, explained Luigi, Padre Pio possessed magical healing powers.
For decades, the Vatican suspected Pio of causing and perpetuating his bleeding wounds. Wishing to expose him as a fraud, the Holy See dispatched a series of investigators to expose the fakery they alleged. However, they could never prove Pio’s stigmata, which began in 1918, was a fraud and eventually declared it authentic.
John Paul II, the Polish pope, who revered the mystic and once (while a Cardinal) took confession with him, canonized Pio to sainthood in 2002.
My father painted a portrait of Padre Pio and gifted it to Luigi a few days before his heart surgery.
Overjoyed, Luigi prayed to Pio’s likeness, entered the hospital with confidence and bounced back from surgery with new vim and vigor. Thereafter he no longer suffered the nervous disorders that had plagued him for many years.
Luigi felt cured and he credited Padre Pio—my dad’s portrait of Pio—for his recovery.
Word Gets Around
During this process, my father was, oddly, taken by Padre Pio’s image; he couldn't get it out of his mind and was soon (to his bewilderment) compelled to paint additional portraits of the Christian mystic.
In the early hours one night, while in Monaco, my father awoke feeling unwell. He wandered into the dark living room and noticed an unframed portrait of Pio, not yet dry, propped against the wall, barely illuminated by harbor lights in the distance. Feeling deathly ill at this point, my father sat down by the painting and prayed—perhaps for the first time in his life.
Much later that morning, after conducting tests, a doctor told my father that an ulcer in his stomach was bleeding so profusely that he was amazed my dad had survived the night.
Soon after that experience, my brother-in-law Steven, then in his early 30s, discovered a lump on his neck that got diagnosed as a particularly aggressive tongue cancer at an elevated stage. The prognosis was bad. Doctors did not expect Steven to live longer than six months.
On hearing this terrible news, my father painted a portrait of Padre Pio and mailed it to Steven. A surgeon removed the base of Steven's tongue and radiation therapy commenced. Steven prayed to his Padre Pio portrait.
Steven made a recovery so miraculous that his physicians were left astounded and
bewildered. Over 25 years later, Steven remains in complete remission.
Other such recoveries took place when my father gifted those in need with a Padre Pio portrait.
Word got around.
A French-Canadian priest devoted to Padre Pio learned of my father's portraits and one day arrived unannounced at his Monaco art studio to personally see what was going on. The priest claimed to feel Pio's presence in my father’s studio. And he suggested that Pio was using my father to continue intercession healing through prayer.
Moreover, this priest expressed a desire to organize an exhibition of my father's Pio portraits at a church in Monaco. However, after some planning, my father demurred, preferring not to market or promote the special blessings these paintings seemed to possess. (One of his life-size portraits of Pio hangs on permanent on display inside St. Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco.)
Another artist tried to trick my father out of his collection of Pio portraits, offering to take them away to have them professionally photographed. A cursory background check showed this person to be of poor character. When told he could not have access to the Pio portraits after all, the man’s demeanor turned snarly and menacing—another devil exposed.
My father passed in 2008, on St. Pio Feast Day.
THE PADRE PIO FOUNDATION
About to embark on a road trip through New England in 2017, I discovered that The Padre Pio Foundation of the USA is situated in Cromwell, Connecticut, not two miles off I-91, the route from Washington, D.C. to Portland, Maine.
A white clapboard structure houses the foundation.
I entered and donated one of my father’s Pio portraits with a typescript explaining his spiritual connection to the mystic.
She pointed me to the chapel at the end of a hallway. It was simple, like small-town church, featuring a crucifixion centerpiece, statuettes of the Virgin Mary, fresh flowers. I lit a candle for my father and took a pew to contemplate my dutiful presence here.
Earlier in the day I had visited Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut and Jack Kerouac’s final resting place at Edson Cemetery in Lowell, Massachusetts, where the author of On the Road was born.
The collective experience left me overwhelmed with emotion.
A couple months after that when my family barely survived the mudslide of Montecito, I sent to an old friend a photograph of an angel that had appeared on the ceiling of my bedroom hours before. The debris flow struck our house. My father had once gifted this person with a portrait of Pio. After seeing the angel pic, my old friend emailed me his take on our miraculous escape: “This gift comes from your father, no greater gift could he give you and your family, protection. No further explanation.”
Nine months later, three days before St. Pio Feast Day and the tenth anniversary of my father’s passing, I visited St. Peter the Apostle Church in Parsippany, New Jersey to view Pio’s relics, including his mittens, encased in a glass reliquary, mottled with dried blood that had seeped incessantly from the mystic’s hands.
I could almost hear Padre Pio’s famed mantra: “Pray, hope, don’t worry.”
And traversing the concourse at Newark Liberty Airport next morning, I felt a certain lightness, as if I was walking on air—a tranquil ecstasy or satori—having surrendered all control to the universe.
THE PUTIN REPORT
Three days ago, Lukoil, the $4.8 billion Russian oil and gas giant, announced that Raval Maginov, the 67-year-old chairman of its board of directors “passed away following a severe illness.”
In fact, Mr. Maginov died from injuries after falling from a window on the sixth floor of Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital. The story goes he had stepped out onto a balcony (not intended for patient use) to smoke a cigarette.
Odd coincidence: Soon after Russian dictator Vladimir Putin brutally invaded Ukraine, Lukoil’s board of directors issued a press release critical of the invasion.
Dated March 3rd, 2022, their press release states: “Lukoil expresses herewith its deepest concerns about the tragic events in Ukraine. Calling for the soonest termination of the armed conflict, we express our sincere sympathy for all victims, who are affected by this tragedy. We strongly support a lasting ceasefire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy.”
Why was Mr. Maginov in hospital?
Which, of course, sounds like the political abuse (and weaponizing) of psychiatry (add assassination).
This is the eighth death this year of Russians associated with their country’s oil and gas industry. Alexander Subbotin, a former Lukoil executive/billionaire oligarch died in May, supposedly after seeking a hangover cure from a shaman and ingesting toad poison.
CIVIL UNREST IN RUSSIA
The leader of the National Republican Army (NRA), an underground Russian military movement seeking to overthrow Mr. Putin, told Newsweek that the Russian dictator’s end will come “quietly and fearfully. He will lose his head in exchange for sanctions relief” as the fall guy. However, the NRA leader adds, “His cronies won’t be able to get away with it either. We have taken note of every move.”
The NRA claimed responsibility for the murder-by-car-bomb last month of Darya Dugina, a pro-Putin newscaster and daughter of Aleksandre Dugina, a nationalist ideologue reputed to be “Putin’s brain.”