Padre Pio's doctor: 'I treated him for two years. And he cured me”

For two years he assisted the sick friar. And he has observed it, even with skepticism. Then there was a night of fear and everything changed. In his last interview Graziano Pretto explained why


He returned to his homeland on Saturday 25 September. Two kilos of ashes inside an urn, buried in the family tomb in Roveredo di Guà. A last journey of almost 700 kilometres, from San Giovanni Rotondo, in Puglia, to the Bassa Veronese. This is the last interview with Dr. Graziano Pretto, who died at the age of 86, personal physician of San Pio da Pietrelcina. On the day of our meeting he had been in treatment for some time with monoclonal antibodies: 'I have liver metastases'. He had already been affected by four tumors, overcome without chemotherapy. The last one, on the kidney, in 2019 required five surgeries in just one month. «I have a very bad health of iron», he commented seraphic. «In the space of a few years I underwent 14 operations under general anesthesia. I feel good. Thanks to Padre Pio'. He was convinced that the saint had saved him several times.
Pretto, retired in 2004, still visited but did not charge the sick: 'I want to be free'. For 37 years he was head physician at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the hospital inaugurated by the friar in 1956. He created the Otorhinolaryngology department. “Previously only raw tonsillectomies were performed, in other words the tonsils were torn out without anesthesia.” At the beginning he was alone, at the end of his career he had a staff of 12 doctors under him. He performed no less than 40,000 surgeries. 'It's not that in the past I was very devoted to the saint, I didn't like the idolatrous climate created around him', he confessed. «The day he passed away, I left for Verona, I didn't even attend the funeral so as not to see those scenes of popular fanaticism. It's after, only after, that I understood. And today I can serenely say that I feel 'telepioguided', indeed that I have been so in every moment of my life».

Alessia Marcuzzi in Piazza Duomo in Milan with pajamas... Alessia Marcuzzi in Piazza Duomo in Milan with pajamas...

Where does this belief come from?
«After the last surgery, a perirenal fistula had developed, from which 150 cubic centimeters of urine leaked every day. Desperate, sure of dying, I asked the nun to bring me a holy picture of Saint Pio and I said to him: listen, father, you always repeated to me 'God make you a hundred thousand doubles for one', help me, please!».

mystery phrase.
“It meant: for a good deed, God give you 100,000 doubles, that is, 200,000. I was shaken by a shiver. In the evening, they collected only 7 cubic centimeters of urine. In six days the fistula disappeared».

How did you become a doctor?
«I followed the example of my father Leonardo. He had the conduct at Roveredo di Guà. At the age of 10 I helped him in the surgery, warmed up the liquid paraffin to put on the burns. I trained at the University of Padua, at the school of Professor Michele Arslan, son of Yerwant, the pioneer of otolaryngology who his parents sent to Italy at the age of 15, in 1880, presaging the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks. He was the father of Antonia, the author of Masseria delle larks ».

What memories do you have of your childhood?
'I am the youngest of eight children. I still have the cold of the house without heating in my bones. The wood stove was in the living room. The chilblains caused us excruciating itching, which our mother tried to soothe by soaking our hands in a basin of hot water in which she dissolved the bran of the wheat. The mists cut themselves with a knife. Dad went by bicycle to visit the sick and never found his way home. Mom was a woman of great faith, she spent herself for us and for others, from 5.30 in the morning to midnight. She helped the poor with the San Vincenzo ».

Who was the first to tell you about Padre Pio?
«The parish priest Don Antonio Paiusco. In 1950 he organized a pilgrimage to Rome for the Jubilee. For the occasion he brought the faithful to San Giovanni Rotondo. Dad had prepared himself by reading The Antichrists in the Church of Christ, the book in defense of Padre Pio written by Emanuele Brunatto, the Capuchin's first spiritual son. He came back unsettled. “So many flies!”, he commented. He didn't have the patience to get in line and be confessed by the holy friar.'

And did she, on the other hand, have this patience?
“I have never confessed to Padre Pio. I was afraid. Only once did I kneel before him, confused among the faithful. He stroked everyone's head. Arrived in front of me, he landed a very violent blow on my skull with the knuckles of his right hand. If I think back, I still feel pain.

But then why did he move to his hospital?
“I didn't want to go. Arslan, my teacher, discovered that his son Edoardo had parotid carcinoma. He asked for an audience with Padre Pio. Who at the end ordered him: 'You have to send one of your school to my hospital'. Back, Arslan operated on his son, who survived and became professor of audiology in Treviso. At that point the chief physician asked for a volunteer for San Giovanni Rotondo: everyone gave him spades. So I turned to my brother Don Luigi, a Jesuit, director of the school of religion at the Antonianum in Padua, who tried to convince me: 'You're only going there for six months'. I just got engaged, I objected, and I've never held the scalpel. Arslan provided for a one-month crash course in the operating room».

So in the end he left for Puglia.
«It was July 29, 1966. I cried from Padua to Bologna. When I arrived, I didn't even understand what the patients were saying to me. The only ones who knew Italian were two nurses, Rendina and Cappucci, who also acted as interpreters».

And what therapies did he practice for the future saint?
«Padre Pio was afflicted by two chronic diseases, otitis media and bronchitis, which had made him almost deaf. He no longer heard the voice of the faithful who went to confess to him. “Cheee? What did you say? I don't understand, speak louder!”, He grew impatient. The penitents were forced to repeat their sins aloud to him, with considerable embarrassment. For two years, until his death, I went to him every day at 2 pm. With my left hand I held his head still and with my right I inserted a small iron tube into his nostrils, one at a time. I went up to the Eustachian tubes, activated a compressor and insufflavo air to make the catarrh formed in his ears flow down the throat ».

An invasive therapy, not without risks.
«At the end I asked him: how are you, father? And he replied: 'As God wills'. I had the distinct sensation of being physically assisted by Padre Pio in every medical practice, and above all in surgery: they all suited me well'.

Did you also feel spiritually assisted?
“This is another chapter. After each insufflation, the cappuccino asked me: 'Are you married?'. 'No, father.' And he, in an imperious tone: 'And get married!'. Once, twice, three times. On the fifth I thought: he's arteriosclerotic. Until at the sixth request, he lowered his gaze to the rosary he was holding in his hand and resignedly whispered: 'And get married...'. As if he had seen what was going to happen in my future.'

What happened to her?
«A few months before leaving for Puglia, I had met a beautiful girl from the Veronese upper middle class. She was 9 years younger than me. On April 13, 1967 I married her in the crypt of the basilica of San Zeno in Verona. After the wedding lunch at the Punta San Vigilio inn on Lake Garda, we left for the honeymoon. Destination: San Giovanni Rotondo. Nine months later Alessandra was born, who today works in the general management of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. Five more children followed. In 2003 my wife began receiving love letters from a former suitor. She was honest: she read them to me. Within two months, that gentleman took her away from me».

Where does your ex wife live?
'In Verona. He is a high-ranking character, he has held a national office. They got married civilly. It is an indescribable pain. Imagine a husband forced into divorce, with six boys in charge, one of whom is still a minor, and an old aunt suffering from Alzheimer's. And with a diagnosis of bladder cancer, because in great sorrows the first to fall are the immune defenses. But I told my children: remember that she will always be your mother. In turn, they all forgave her. I too have returned to talk to him. But the wound remains. 37 years of married life are not canceled».

Do you remember your first meeting with Padre Pio?
“Like it was yesterday. With me were professors Gastone Pesavento and Italo Serafini. Crossing the threshold of the convent, he welcomed us with a fragrance of roses and violets. We heard it that morning and then never again. 'It must have been the perfumer friar, he appears to be the one who gives him the stigmata with a nail', we joked blasphemous. We didn't know then that you felt the effluvium only when Padre Pio was thinking of you'.

How did you find out?
«Mario Cammisa, agnostic, radiologist at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, explained to us that he had had the same experience as soon as he got off the bus that took him from Rome to San Giovanni Rotondo».

The actor Carlo Campanini told me that he saw the ghost of Padre Pio in the room. The same confided to me Friar Indovino, alias Father Mariangelo da Cerqueto, born Mario Budelli.
'It's never happened to me. But listen to this. August 1966. I was traveling towards Foggia in my 500 with a canvas top. A furious storm came up, with hailstones the size of tennis balls. I reasoned: I can't die like this, I have Padre Pio in my care. The next day I went to my usual appointment. The friar shouted: “You! Where were you going last night in that downpour?” And the telegram?'

What telegram are you talking about?
«Of what my mother received in Roveredo di Guà while I was in Verona from my father-in-law. It read: 'Padre Pio requests his presence in Casa Sollievo'. I left running at 5. At dawn I presented myself to the medical director Giuseppe Gusso. “We haven't sent her any telegrams,” he marveled. Nor had the friar from Pietrelcina sent it to me. But then who? I'm still wondering.'