Devotion to Padre Pio evident in thousands who turn out to venerate relics

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) — When the relics
of St. Pio of Pietrelcina — commonly known as Padre Pio — stopped at two
Chicago churches, more than 19,000 people turned out to venerate them,
organizers said.

The relics, which included a
lock of Padre Pio’s hair, blood from his wounds, a glove used to cover his
stigmatized hands and part of his religious habit, visited St. Francis Borgia
Church Sept. 25 and St. Ita Church Sept. 26.

They were part of a national
tour Sept. 16-Oct. 8 sponsored by the St Pio Foundation to mark the 130th
anniversary of Padre Pio’s birth and the 15th anniversary of his canonization. Almost
a dozen U.S. dioceses and archdioceses hosted the relics.

Born in Pietrelcina in southern
Italy in 1887, Padre Pio was a Capuchin priest who, in 1918, received the
stigmata — an occurrence where the five wounds Jesus’ passion appear on a
person’s body. Those wounds stayed until his death.

People flocked to Mass and
confession with Padre Pio during his lifetime. He was known to have the gifts
of bilocation (ability to appear in two places at once), healing and

In 1956, he established Casa
Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering), a hospital that
today is considered one of the best in Italy. Padre Pio died in 1968 and was
canonized by St. John Paul II in 2002.

The tour of his relics began at St.
Joseph Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York, and ended at Blessed Trinity
Catholic Church in the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. The relics also
traveled to the Diocese of La Crosse and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in
Wisconsin; the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut; the Archdiocese of St.
Louis; the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan; the Diocese of Providence, Rhode
Island; the Archdiocese of Atlanta; and the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

In Chicago, those who turned out
to venerate Padre Pio’s relics Sept. 25 and 26 all had a story to tell. Some
saw him in person. Others knew someone who met the saint. Still others came
across his story along their spiritual journey and pray to him fervently.

For Carole Klein, it was a book
belonging to her parents that was passed on to her after they died. Not a
practicing Catholic, Klein read about the relics’ visit in the Chicago Tribune
and stopped by St. Ita to see them.

“Padre Pio’s just sort of
been an object of conversation in our house,” she said. “It (the
book) was an object of fascination for me. I was young. There were pictures in

Her family talked often about
the book while Klein’s parents were alive.

“My daughter who’s 30 even
knows about it,” she told the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Chicago.

The devotion to Padre Pio was
evident in those who visited the relics along with her.

“I’m not surprised by
it,” Klein said.

Ronald Wiese, a parishioner at
St. Barnabas Parish in Beverly, learned about the saint through a biography he
purchased around 1999 and said Padre Pio is a “modern-day saint.”

“You can see a part of him
in this church in regard to his relics, whether it was a part of his person or
something that he wore, something that he had,” Wiese said.

St. Francis Borgia and St. Ita
reported a steady stream of visitors from the time veneration started at 9 a.m.
through the start of Mass each evening. They counted the number of people as
they came in and priests blessed religious objects and heard confessions.

During Masses each evening, the
faithful filled all available space in the churches. They were in the pews but
also in the aisles, the vestibule, on the street outside and, in the case of
St. Ita, sitting on the steps of the sanctuary.

Organizers expected large crowds
but not quite the more than 19,000 who turned out. It shows the love people
have for Padre Pio.

“He’s truly a unique saint
in the sense that he cuts across cultures, boundaries, ages and somehow
resonates with such a wide group of people,” said Conventual Franciscan
Father Bob Cook, pastor of St. Ita.

However, the interest in relics
doesn’t surprise him.

“Relics are a reminder that
the saints were human beings at one point. They’re still human beings but they
are in heaven. With that comes everything that is human – temptation,
forgiveness,” Cook said.

Padre Pio was known to be short-tempered
and, like many people, probably brought that up in his own confessions, Cook

“He lived like we did and
aspired to become a saint and did. That’s the route for all of us,” Cook

Relics are also a way to keep in
touch with heaven.

“In the church we have
canonized saints and uncanonized saints. My mother is an uncanonized saint. I
have things of her that I hold on to, that remind me of her, that bring me into
communion with her,” the friar said. “The saints are our relatives in
heaven and this is a tangible way to be in communion with those

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Duriga is editor of the Chicago
Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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