Padre Pio, who described himself only as “a poor friar that prays,” wrote that prayer is “the highest apostolate that a soul can exercise in God’s Church”. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Pius XII exhorted the faithful to gather together and pray often as a community. This invitation for groups of the faithful to gather for prayer was picked up by the faithful during World War II. If war divides and disperses, then prayer would bring together and unite.
Padre Pio accepted the invitation of Pope Pius XII and encouraged the faithful to gather in groups to pray according to the intentions of the Holy Father. In 1947 Padre Pio invited Prayer Groups to spring up and to take on a more stable form. Their objective was to pray and pray together. Padre Pio said, ” Let us gather periodically for prayer in common. Today’s society does not pray, that is why it is falling apart.”
“Never grow weary of praying. This is essential. Prayer penetrates the heart of God and obtains the graces needed… Without prayer, our House for the Relief of Suffering is somewhat like a plant without air and sun.”
The Prayer Groups spread throughout Italy and around the world. On July 31, 1968, the Holy See appointed a General Director for the Prayer Groups. Hence, at the last International Congress of the Prayer Groups, while Padre Pio was still alive, the Prayer Groups gathered as an association officially recognized by the Church. Before his death on September 23, 1968, Padre Pio gave a special blessing to the Prayer Groups, the sick, and all of his spiritual children.
Today, there are Prayer Groups all over the world. This year (2016) on February 6, Pope Francis met the members of Padre Pio’s Prayer Groups. He said, “I think of the Prayer Groups, which Saint Pio described as ‘nurseries of faith, hotbeds of love’; not only meeting centers to be at ease with friends and to be consoled somewhat, but hotbeds of divine love. The Prayer Groups are this! Prayer, in fact, is a true and proper mission, that brings the fire of love to the whole of humanity. Padre Pio said that prayer is a ‘force that moves the world.’ Prayer is a force that moves the world! But do we believe this? It is so. Try it! It – he added — spreads God’s smile and blessing on all languor and weakness.”
Pare Pio died on September 23, 1968. In the mid-1960s, Padre Pio’s health began to deteriorate, but he continued to celebrated Mass and to hear fifty confessions daily. By July of 1968, he was almost bedridden. On the fiftieth anniversary of the stigmata (September 20,1968), Padre Pio celebrated Mass, attended the public recitation of the Rosary and Benediction. On the next day, he was too weak to say Mass or hear confessions. On September 22, he celebrated Mass for the last time. Just after midnight, in the early morning hours of September 23, Padre Pio called his superior and asked to make his confession. He then renewed his vows as a religious. At 2:30am, Padre Pio died with his rosary in his hands. His last words were “Jesus, Mary” —— which he repeated over and over until he breathed his last.
On September 26, 1968, over a hundred thousand people gathered at San Giovanni Rotondo to pay their respects to Padre Pio. He was buried in the crypt prepared for him in the Church of Our Lady of Grace. Padre Pio had often declared, “After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.”