Reprinted with permission from GARABANDAL
INTERNATIONAL July-September 2004
by Joachim Bouflet, Ph.D.
In July of 1968, I had invited four of my friends — like me, students at the Sorbonne — to come and spend ten days at my family's home in Germany (my mother's family is German). We were all about 20 years old and, being in the Catholic student's movement at the university, we asked ourselves about our future which for some of us would eventually be a religious vocation.
For some years I had hoped to enter
the Order of Carmelite Fathers, while one of our group, the product of
a totally agnostic environment, was hesitating to reveal her choice of
a religious life to her parents (soon after she joined the Sisters of Bethlehem).
PHOTO: From Padre Pio: "Consecrate yourself to the Virgin of Carmel who appeared at Garabandal."
These points indicate the atmosphere in which we found ourselves; we spoke often of religion and while in the enchanting surroundings of the Lake Constance region, we added to our relaxation the pleasure of a life rhythmically punctuated with religious practice, the recitation of the Holy Office and meditation.
One of our group, Janine, was severely physically disabled. One day, in the course of conversation, she shared with us a wish: that someone would go in her name to see Padre Pio and ask him to pray for her. She was unable to go to see him, not so much because of her handicap, but because her mother, a non-believer, was radically opposed to it. I volunteered to go in her place.
At the end of our stay in Germany, I decided to hitchhike — by cutting across Austria I thought it would be easy. And so, having spent some time with my family, I set off in mid-August.
It proved to be quite easy from the very beginning because a bus full of pilgrims bound for San Damiano [site of alleged apparitions] picked me up and took me all the way there (San Damiano) in one stretch. I was acquainted with the place, having been there before, but it didn't attract me very much. Nevertheless, I took advantage of the pilgrimage which was going there for August 15.
Providentially, at San Damiano I met another student, Loulou, quite an extraordinary woman of about fifty, an ex-cloistered nun, who was studying Russian. When I told her of my intention to hitchhike to San Giovanni Rotondo, she declared she would accompany me and that she would not let me wander alone on the roads of southern Italy (to hear her speak one would think it was a land full of danger, a den of brigands and murderers), and that she would be useful to me since she spoke Italian, while I knew only a few words.
I liked this idea and on August 16 we set off. Three days later, much to our delight although totally exhausted, we arrived at San Giovanni Rotondo. I had only one thought — to meet Padre Pio.
Once there, I became disillusioned. It was not as easy as I had imagined. To tell the truth, it was even impossible. The holy priest, quite old and frail, hardly ever received visitors anymore and the waiting list for the few confessions that he still heard had been pretty well full for some time.
But I would at least have the grace to attend his Mass and to see him with the other men in the sacristy. When that happened, it overwhelmed me so much that I was transported with joy. I left a small note with the porter for Padre Pio explaining the reason for my coming. They assured me that all requests were delivered to him.
In the afternoon of August 23, I went to the little church of Our Lady of Grace. There were only two or three persons there; the others were only passing through. A young Capuchin approached me asking me something in Italian. I couldn't understand him but from his gestures I understood what he wanted of me, that I help him carry a large papermache statue of St Louis, King of France.
After the encounter with Padre Pio, the author burst into tears and wept for joy
He took the statue by the head while I took the base and we went through a side door into a cloister. A short distance away, in the shade under the arcade, sat Padre Pio in an easy chair. He seemed to be dozing. I was filled with emotion finding myself so close to him. But the young priest was pulling me and so, carrying the statue, we went into the new church where we placed the Saint's image beside the altar.
While draping the supporting stand with a piece of cloth and arranging vases of flowers, the young Capuchin explained to me slowly, in order to make himself understood, that St Louis was a Third Order Franciscan, that they were celebrating his feast day on the evening of the next day (Vigil) and that it was right for specifically me, a Frenchman, who had helped him. I guessed, more than understood what he was saying, since my Italian was very limited.
Finally I asked him how to get back to the little chapel of Our Lady of Grace. With a gesture he indicated the door that we had just used and I returned to the cloister to make the return trip.
To be so close to Padre Pio! An opportunity like this would never come again! I bolted across the garden of the cloister and fell at his feet. He seemed surprised. At the same time, two Capuchins rushed out, crying unintelligible words. Padre Pio made a sign to them with his gloved hand and they were silent but stayed nearby.
Then he gazed at me severely but I am sure there was amusement in his eyes. He put his hand on my head (I was kneeling in front of him) and he said a few words to me. The two monks retreated some distance. I listened to Padre Pio who kept his hand on my head. I understood perfectly what he said to me.
I confessed my sins and he responded, commenting on what I had disclosed and then I was given the overwhelming experience of the charism attributed to him, that of his knowledge of hearts. I felt a profound peace and a profound anguish. I don't know how long this exchange lasted.
Finally, he told me, "Pray to the Madonna. Consecrate yourself to the Virgin of Carmel." "Yes, Padre, I pray to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. For that matter, I would like to become a Carmelite." He didn't comment on this but repeated with insistence, "Consecrate yourself to the Virgin of Carmel who appeared at Garabandal."
"So it's true?"
"Certo e vero!" ("Yes, it's true!")
Then he said two or three personal things to me. And as I was asking for his blessing before getting up, he concluded, "And tell Janine that it's all right and that I am praying for her." I had completely forgotten why I had gone to San Giovanni Rotondo! With his supernatural delicacy the Padre was reminding me. What confusion!
Then I received his blessing and got up. He looked at me seriously and then closed his eyes. The two Capuchins, who had remained at a distance, escorted me to the little church of Our Lady of Grace. They amused themselves by jostling me and scolding me. I wondered whether they were serious or not but to tell the truth, it mattered little to me.
Once in the chapel, I burst into tears. I wept for joy. A little later my friend Loulou arrived. She took me outside and said, "So it seems you were able to see Padre Pio!" As my surprise was obvious, she cut in, "I see that you are not used to this. Around here, everybody knows everything within a quarter of an hour." It wasn't long before I found out for myself.
By the end of the afternoon, I had to face the curious interrogations of numerous pilgrims. I was ill at ease especially when I voiced the opinion that perhaps Padre Pio had only a little time left to suffer here below—it was a very distinct impression I had when I was with him.
You would have thought that I had uttered a blasphemy, as if the people were persuaded that the holy Padre was immortal or some such thing. I decided to leave the next day and Loulou concurred. In the evening I wrote down Padre Pio's words (in Italian) which I remembered exactly.
I left San Giovanni Rotondo on
August 24,1968. Padre Pio was called by Our Lord one month to the day after
I had seen him. Such is the account of my meeting with the Servant of God
and the exact tenor of his suggestions with regard to the events of Garabandal.