With the outbreak of the Second World War, Pope Pius XII exhorted the faithful to pray for peace, unity and the salvation of the world.
Understanding the importance of the Pontiff’s exhortation, Padre Pio immediately turned to action inviting his spiritual children and the numerous devotees who used to come to the Friary of San Giovanni Rotondo to gather and pray together.
Soon after, many groups formed within Italy and outside. They would gather on a regular basis to pray for Padre Pio’s intentions and the intentions of the Holy Father. Moreover, the Saint invited priests to take care of the spiritual direction of the groups, so that the link with the Church would be guaranteed.
The Prayer Groups all had the same structure and their organization, formation and activity would soon be regulated by rules based upon the teachings of Padre Pio.
The Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the official Opera di San Pio da Pietrelcina (transl. Work of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina), is the international headquarters of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups and, as such, guides and assists all of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups throughout the entire world.
The Groups are officially recognized by the Church, according to a Statute approved by the Holy See, which became effective on 4th May 1986.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE PRAYER GROUPS
According to the archival data of the International Centre of Padre Pio Prayer Groups of San Giovanni Rotondo, in 1956, the year of the inauguration of Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, there were about 100 Groups spread in Italy, Switzerland and France.
A notable diffusion occurred in the years that marked the history of San Pio:
- In 1978, the tenth anniversary of the death of Padre Pio, it was decided to honor him with a Peregrinatio Mariae. The initiative was welcomed as a popular mission and a great call to prayer: it was an opportunity to present Padre Pio as a model of Marian prayer and devotion. In this year, 205 Prayer Groups were born in Italy.
- In 1999, Padre Pio was beatified: «the echo stirred by this beatification in Italy and throughout the world shows that the fame of Padre Pio – Pope John Paul II said during the homily of May 2 – has gone forth to embrace all the continents». A fame that has come overseas which led, in this year, to the registration of 216 Italian Groups and over 30 foreign Groups (born mainly in Argentina, United States, Malta and Great Britain);
- In 2002, the year of the sanctification of Padre Pio, the Groups registered at the Centre of Padre Pio Prayer Groups were 251. 71 foreign Groups were born mainly in Argentina, Great Britain, Poland, USA, Canada and Australia and many Groups were born in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. On June 16, in St. Peter’s Square, John Paul II affirmed: «prayer, a fundamental characteristic of Padre Pio’s spirituality, continues in the “Prayer Groups” that he founded, which offer to the Church and to society the wonderful contribution of incessant and confident prayer».