By Padraig Caughey
In 1982, when I was 26 years old, I was captured by the British Army and thrown into the Curmlin Road Jail. Belfast, in the North of Ireland.
At the time, I was extremely bitter and full of hate, not believing in God at all, and very angry at the Catholic Church, which I considered pro-British. The years of rage and violence during the Troubles had taken their toll on me, and I was increasingly suicidal. The only thing that stopped me from killing myself was the knowledge that it would bring great pain to my family.
One night as I entered my cell. I found lying on the floor, a news- paper photo of Padre Pio, bearing his stigmata. I do not know how it got there, as neither myself nor my cell-mate were believers. Anyway, as I looked at the marks of the Passion on Padre Pio’s hands, I thought, “The old fool did it with a screwdriver!” I wondered how he had never gotten blood poisoning or been caught cheating during such a long life.
That night as I was going to sleep, I said in despair, “Padre Pio, go to God, and ask Him to prove to me that He really exists in the space of one ‘Hail Mary.’ If He does not, I will know for certain that He does not exist, and I can go ahead and kill myself.”
Our Lady Appeared!
As soon as I had said, “Hail Mary,” my eyes flooded with tears in rivers down my face, for there, standing at the end of my bed, in great glory, was the Mother of God Herself. Extraordinary holiness, beauty, majesty, purity, motherliness, love, and kindness… indescribable!
She said, “Now you believe.” I could only nod, and say, “Yes, I believe,” Then She said, “Faith, without love, is vain. You must forgive; do you forgive?”
Then I saw before me, picture forms of all whom I had hated, while Mary’s voice gently kept asking me, “Do you forgive, do you forgive, do you forgive?”… as each picture passed before me. She then said, “Now is there anyone, anyone at all, to whom your bear hate?”
There was no one; I forgave them all. It was as though the weight of the universe was lifted from my soul. For the first time, Mary smiled.
“Now you have faith, and now you have loved; but now you must pray, for prayer is the food of faith. Pray… pray the Rosary,” and She held a set of beads towards me. I was embarrassed, and said, “I am sorry. I have forgotten how to say them.” Then Mary said with great firmness, “I, Myself, will teach you,” which She did.
I cannot tell you the joy I felt. It was as though I was reborn. I found it hard to say the Rosary at first, but then I came to love it. Eventually, I ended up saying it all the time. The way that Mary taught me to pray the Rosary was not at all as we prayed it when I was a child. Her way was slow and thoughtful… so meaningful to me, and such a joy to feel truly in the presence of Jesus and Mary while it was being prayed.
When I left prison, I entered a Cistercian Monastery for three and a half years. I am certain, that for the rest of my life, I will never forget Our Lady’s visit, and always thank Padre Pio, Our Lady, and God for that wonderful night in prison which changed me and saved both my life and my soul. +++