By Lora Williamson
“I have to have the Eucharist. I’m literally going to die if I don’t have it today.” This was my first thought one morning in January 2020. I had not received the Eucharist since my confirmation in the 1980s. I don’t know why or how, but I was suddenly obsessed with becoming one with the body, blood, soul and divinity of our dearly beloved Lord, Jesus Christ.
In 2019, I went to see Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Catholic survivor of the Rwandan genocide, speak in New York City. She told her incredible story, which I already knew since I read her book. I had also been to Rwanda on a mission trip with my Protestant mega-church that I was very involved in for years. Even though I was attending mega-church style churches for the previous 30 years, I was never anti-Catholic and I was never offended by the rosary or the smells and bells. As an Italian-American, I could never give up Saint Anthony! I just kept it to myself.
During one section of her retreat, people were telling their incredible stories of praying the rosary and how Mary interceded for them. I wasn’t anti-Mary, but I had no special feelings or devotion to her. I wished I had what they had. We also sang the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which was my first time hearing it and the peace while singing and praying, probed me to ask God for a deeper relationship with not only Him, but Mary. Before the day was over, they also had the Traveling Fatima Statue there for everyone to venerate and a Padre Pio relic to kiss. If my Protestant friends could only see me now. I didn’t care. I needed Jesus and every saint possible to help me find a deeper peace and direction for my life. I also came away that day with a yearning to learn more about Padre Pio and was on fire to learn more about him. Being Italian, I knew his name, but it was something only the old ladies talked about during my childhood.
I became obsessed with learning everything there was to know about Padre Pio and I felt him calling me to Italy. I love traveling to Italy, but in 2019, I could not go because of finances. Padre Pio had something else in mind. I told him that if he wanted me to go, he would have to make a way for me to get to Italy and to his shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo. Not long after, my sister and friend called to tell me they wanted to go to Italy in September and we could all share a room to save money. Perfect! I found deals and a friend in Italy helped me rent one of the last cars available. I would drive from Sorrento to San Giovanni Rotondo by myself and then back to Rome.
Upon walking into the shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, I smelled a beautiful fragrance, but no one was around. I stood in the entrance, took deep breaths and couldn’t believe I made it there. Then I started crying and sobbing tears from deep within me. I was grateful no one was there. I didn’t know what Padre Pio wanted from me, but I came halfway around the world to find out. Sitting in silence, I decided I would become a spiritual daughter of his. I had no idea what it really meant outside of promising to live a Catholic life, but I knew I had to get as close to him as possible.
In January 2020, I received my letter from San Giovanni Rotondo about being a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio. At this point, I was attending Catholic mass daily, and volunteering at the Protestant church Sunday morning, but no longer attended their service. There were so many theological problems adding up in my Sunday Protestant church and the mega-church philosophy. Modern Protestantism, in general, started to show its flaws as I learned more theology and dug a little deeper. I was tired of the ‘name it and claim it’‘ attitude, the prosperity gospel and the concept of once saved, always saved. They did not talk about repentance or sin. It felt more like Oprahs Super Soul Sunday rather than worshiping Jesus.
When Covid came, my mega Protestant church folded like a deck of cards. They shut everything down and transitioned to online for months. There was no victory there, only fear. They drowned in social justice delusions and promoted Marxism without even knowing or understanding. There was absolutely no vision, discernment or faith as far as I could see. Many other people felt the same way and left the church. Now I realized why Padre Pio and Mary were drawing me in to them. It was to protect and guide me through one of the biggest spiritual battles between good and evil the world has ever seen.
The only church open in New Jersey was a Latin Mass chapel an hour away. I didn’t even know the Latin mass was still happening! It was the most incredible mass experience I have ever had. There was no fear, no psycho-babble, and no apologies. The silence of the mass filled every cell of my body with peace.
Finally, I was able to see the same mass that Padre Pio performed. It was like he was letting me in on a secret. The beauty, the reverence, and the very heavens opened up right in front of my face. Although I couldn’t understand the exact words the priest was saying, I knew exactly what was happening. Worship of the almighty God that still has the world in the palm of His hand. We sang sanctus, sanctus, sanctus alongside the angels, the communion of saints and Padre Pio for eternity.