Fr. Caesar D’Mello answers an interesting question on Stigmata.

Q: Why are there no reports of stigmata in the past 50 years?
Sent by a Stigmatist Curious, from Santacruz

A: Let’s begin by asking what is the stigmata? Members of the Catholic faith use this term to describe body marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the wounds of Jesus Christ.

The first and most famous of the stigmatists was St. Francis of Assisi (12th century) who received the five wounds while he was meditating on the Passion of Our Lord at ‘La Verna’ in Italy. In recent times, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) also bore the stigmata for around fifty years.

In his paper Hospitality and Pain, Christian theologian Ivan Illich states: “Compassion with Christ… is faith so strong and so deeply linked with the body that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain.” His thesis is that stigmata results from exceptional poignancy of religious faith and desire to associate oneself with the suffering the Messiah.

It is interesting to note that prior to St. Francis and his great devotion to the five wounds there have been no known cases of stigmatists in the Western Church. In the whole of the Eastern Church, the Churches that formerly came under Constantinople, stigmatists were unknown.  The reason may be that in the East, the cross and the resurrection are linked, always. The Christ who died is the one who rose again, so the crucifix is always decorated with jewels.

The Catholic Church has never suggested that the stigmata is a definite sign of the sanctity of a person. Sanctity is shown more by an upright life and a commitment to the poor. Also, there have been cases of fraudulent stigmatists.

Coming to the question, I cannot find a definite reason as to why there are no famous stigmatists in the present time. It may be (guessing) that the devotion to the five wounds of Our Lord has decreased today. The emphasis is on Jesus who underwent the suffering of the passion and death to liberate us from sin and all other evil. Also, it could be that in modern times, the death-resurrection must be seen together as the great Paschal Mystery.

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