From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Pius XII exhorted teh faithful to gather together and pray often as a community. The Holy Father's invitation for groups of the faithful to gather for prayer was picked up by the faithful as World War II loomed on the horizon. This war would divide and disperse millions of people. If war divides and disperses, then prayer would bring together and unite.
Understanding the value and need to pray always, Padre Pio accepted the repeated pleas of Pope Pius XII and encouraged the faithful to gather in groups to pray according to the intentions of the Holy Father. in 1947, at Padre Pio's invitation, Prayer Groups were spontaneously springing up and taking on a more stable form; their sole desire was to pray and pray together. They were, if not officially, certainly in fact, the forerunners of the Prayer Groups we know today. They began as a support for the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenze (House of the Relief of Suffering), and as a response to Padre Pio's appeal, "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." One day, Doctor Sanguinetti, who had read the words of Pope Pius XII from the Osservatore Romano (Vatican Newspaper), heard Padre Pio say, "Let us start doing something. let us role up our sleeves. Let us be the first to respond to the appeal launched by our Supreme Pontiff."
The first list of officially established Prayer Groups was drawn up in 1950. Padre Pio formulated a precise and clear image of what the Prayer Groups were to be and how they were to fulfill their mission. The Invitation to Prayer, from the August 1950 edition of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza states, "the Prayer Groups will live their Christian life fully and openly according to the wishes of His Holiness, if they are first groups of the faithful who pray together."
Before his death on the 23rd of September 1968, Padre Pio gave a special blessing to the Prayer Groups, the sick and all of his spiritual children. There were many representatives from around the world gathered at San Giovanni Rotondo to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the day on which Padre Pio received the visible Stigmata, 20th of September 1968. It seemed an act of Providence that this great mass of people, for whom Padre Pio had been an instrument of Divine Providence in their journey back to the Lord, should have been present to receive his last blessing and attend his funeral.
Padre Pio's influence continues to this day. In his spirit of their holy founder, the Prayer Groups of Padre Pio and his Spiritual Children throughout the world continue to respond to the words of Our Lord, "Truly I say to you, as and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you... if you ask anything of the Father in my name, He will give it to you." Let us remember that our prayers, like incense, rise to God. Let us ask for the grace to live in God's will and to be instruments of God's peace and love to those whom we encounter on life's journey.