It was St. Paul, in the letter to the Galatians in the New Testament, who said, “Let no man trouble me, for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body” (Gal. 6:17). So it has been that down through the centuries a number of Christians have received the grace of having the stigmata, or marks of Jesus’ wounds, on their bodies; many of them were great saints, such as Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, and, of course, Padre Pio.
This is not meant as cruel or as torture but is rather a grace of being deeply united to Christ in his sufferings for the sake of sinners. After all, all Christians must share in Christ’s sufferings, each one in his or her own way. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that everyone who would be his disciple must take up the cross and follow him. He even shared the cross with St. Simon of Cyrene, who carried it for a while for Jesus on the way to Calvary.
Luke’s Gospel tells us of how Mary’s soul was to be pierced with a sword of sorrow at her Son’s death. St. Paul, in the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians, tells us that he is making up for what is lacking, what remains, in the suffering of Christ for the sake of Christ’s body, which is the Church. So the stigmata should be understood in the light of the universal standard of being a follower of the crucified Savior, that we each carry our cross with him.