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The Flying Monk: A True Story from WWII

The Flying Monk, St. Pio

WHEN NAZI FORCES SURRENDERED to the Allies in May 1945, a small group of American airmen were free to make a closer investigation into the odd happenings at San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy.

Beginning in 1944, the airmen’s squadron had repeatedly attempted the bomb the Italian city, where a large cache of German supplies were allegedly stockpiled. But on every bombing run something went wrong – their planes refused to release the bombs, or their targeting equipment malfunctioned and the bombs hit the nearby forest instead. The airmen blamed one person for these problems: the flying monk.

“The flying monk” was the name the airmen gave to the mysterious bearded figure who appeared in the sky every time they flew near San Giovanni Rotondo. Sometimes they just saw his face in the clouds. Other times the monk appeared as if he were standing in the sky. Usually his arms were raised, like he was issuing a warning or granting a blessing.

Dozens of airmen and at least one commanding officer had seen the monk, and as soon as the war ended they headed back to the scene of the events, wanting to know if the monk was who some believed him to be: the holy Capuchin friar of the city’s Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Padre Pio (now Saint Pio).

Sure enough, when the men arrived they recognized the saint as their flying monk. As one witness present at the meeting recalled, Padre Pio greeted the airmen with a friendly, “So you are the ones who wanted to kill us all!”

After his greeting the Americans knelt and received his blessing. When they returned to America the San Giovanni Rotondo they left behind was a city whole and intact…all thanks to the flying monk.

See our icon of St Pio of Pietrelcina here.

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Pots and Pans and More: The Catholic Origins of Today’s Halloween

Catholic Halloween

SOME OF OUR MOST POPULAR HOLIDAYS have surprising origins, and Halloween is one of them. Merrymaking, costumes, going from house to house asking for treats – where did all this come from?

Every year on November 1st the Western Church honors All Saints on the feast of that name, preceded on October 31st by All Hallows Eve (“Hallow E’en”), and followed on November 2nd by the feast of All Souls, also known as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed or the Day of the Dead.

A Hell of a Noise

With the understanding that the “faithful departed” would by definition exclude those in hell, the peasants of medieval Ireland wondered how they should remember those souls, and even worried that if neglected, those souls may seek revenge. They solved the problem by banging pots and pans on October 31st, as a way of letting those in hell know that they weren’t forgotten.

Dressing Up

Centuries later after the bubonic plague killed millions in France, those who survived prayed for the dead and meditated on their own mortality by staging elaborate All Souls’ Day parades. Their danse macabre included people (frequently children) costumed as princes, popes, and paupers, following Death to the grave, side by side.

Author P.S. Conteh writes: “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities”. In the Middle Ages, churches displayed the relics of saints, and those parishes that were too poor to have relics let parishioners dress up as the saints instead.

Trick or Treat

In Catholic England, on October 31st people walked from house to house, promising prayers for the inhabitants’ dearly departed in exchange for tasty cakes called “soul cakes” – a custom known as “souling.” Years later, after England became a Protestant country, every November 5th the revelers celebrating Guy Fawkes Day visited the houses of known or suspected Catholics and demanded food or drink for their merrymaking. If the Catholics didn’t want to see their homes or business vandalized, they supplied what the revelers demanded. it was a choice of…trick or treat.

The United States of Halloween

Many of these traditions died out in their country of origin. But in early 19th century America they found new life and new purpose on All Hallows Eve. Immigrants from England, France, Ireland and other parts of Europe brought their unique customs with them. Mingled in the melting pot of America, they eventually became our present holiday of Halloween.

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