Staying here changed my life.
When I arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo it was already dark and cold. Entering the church a prayer was offered in front of the tomb of Padre Pio which went something like this: "Padre Pio, ask the Lord to help me find a cheap place to stay or I will sleep outside which is fine, but complicated because it is winter and now raining."
In the dark I walked out into the rain and just across the street from the church was this one star "pensione." This alone is a small miracle. In the Italy of today this is extremely rare to see and even in a small town like San Giovanni Rotondo there are today only mostly three and even some four star hotels (and as I was later told this was the very last pensione in the whole town).
And it goes without saying that you just never know who you're going to meet while in Catholic Italy...
Little did I know but I was entering into the same pensione where the young twenty-six year old Fr. Karol Wojtyla stayed during part of his Easter break in 1947 (yep, the future Pope John Paul II) and the same woman who welcomed him then welcomed me now over 60 years later! Her name is Annamaria Bianco, but everybody calls her Signorina. She's the boss and runs a mini-empire for the cause.
As I entered she was leaving by the same door with a shawl over her head and I had no idea of her amazing story, but I was invited to return at 10 pm to pray the rosary with her.
Signorina was born in 1913 and is now almost 96. She was born into a noble family and moved to San Giovanni Rotondo in the thirties to be with her aunt and also to see and meet this mysterious and already famous friar who was said to have the stigmata of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Padre Pio asked Signorina to start a cheap pensione for pilgrims. Padre Pio depended upon Signorina and her aunt as they were wealthy and somebody had to assist the growing number of pilgrims who were arriving and in need of a place to stay. He also depended upon them to get the ball rolling for the construction of a hospital across the street. And so they began small and after these many years now have many rooms and after a few additions on the property now have a really nice and cheap ristorante below, too. It was the first pensione in the town and the first to have electricity and indoor modern plumbing and heating. An architect from Turin was called in and did everything.
It was the thirties and Padre Pio told Signorina that he had already spoken with the mayor and that she was to go and sign the papers and start this pensione as soon as possible. Signorina did it and she still runs this pensione even today, forty years after the death of her beloved Padre Pio. Signorina prays all night long and every night at 10 pm she prays the holy rosary with guests and all are welcome. She explains that she still remembers her chat with the future Pope John Paul II in the same room in 1947.
Signorina knew Padre Pio and has lots of stories of miracles, grace and conversion. She says that Padre Pio prayed 100 rosaries every day. Padre Pio even made her promise to pray a rosary every remaining day of her life and she has been true to this even to this very day. In fact, she, too, is a mystic. You must see and meet this woman and pray with her, too, and be inspired and hear her words.
From Rome take the Eurostar to Foggia, just three hours. From there take a bus to San Giovanni Rotondo, just one hour. Stay at this pensione and pray the rosary each night with this woman and speak Italian and hear and see this and be blessed and know that the Lord of History has a plan and that St. Pio has been and remains a big part of this modern plan.
Print this or write it down:
di Annamaria Bianco
Piazzale Santa Maria delle Grazie
di fronte al convento di Padre Pio
71013 San Giovanni Rotondo (FG)