Despite the torrential downpour, Catholic faithful poured into St. Patrick’s Church, 235 S. Beaver St., York, over two days to view five relics of Padre Pio, the 20th-century Italian stigmatic saint.
Set in small reliquaries, five relics – a scab from his stigmata wound, a bandage he used on the wound, a piece of his hair, a handkerchief he used, and a piece of his Capuchin friar hat – stood on a table to the left of the altar, attended by Knights of Columbus as an honor guard.
The relics came to St. Patrick’s Church through the efforts of Rev. John Bateman, pastor.
“During my time in Rome, I got to know Luciana Lamonarca,” Bateman said. Lamonarca is a founder, President and CEO of the Saint Pio Foundation, based in New Rochelle, N.Y.
“He took the priests on a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo, where Saint Padre Pio’s remains are on display,” Bateman added. “I talked to him, and through him we were able to have the relics come here.”
The relics were on display for two days, beginning after a Mass on Monday, Sept. 20, and continuing on Tuesday, Sept. 21.
“It’s amazing to see peoples’ faith, and their devotion to the holy,” Bateman said. “People came from all over the place. They want to see people who made such sacrifices. It draws them to God.”
Among the hundreds of faithful who viewed the relics over the course of two days were the more than 100 students who attend Holy Trinity Catholic School, located on St. Patrick’s Church campus. The students, who are in grades Pre-K through sixth, were able to view the relics and ask Father Bateman questions during part of their school day.
“It makes them real for kids. It connects them to saints, to holy people,” Kathleen Smith, principal of Holy Trinity Catholic School, said. “To see the bandages and a piece of the scab from his stigmata, knowing this is a man who suffered for Christ, it’s really, really cool.”
“The kids were moved by it. They were in awe,” she added.
“It was gift, just a blessing to our school and our community,” to be able to have the relics in the church and take the children over to see the relics, she said.
On Tuesday evening, one of the attendees was Ginger Bova, who’s been a parishioner of St. Patrick’s for 15 years.
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of people to have their faith strengthened,” she said. “It’s not easy to ignore Saint Pio and the miracles attributed to him. He’s one of the saints sent to us purposefully for the things we’re going through right now, to remind us to trust in God.”
One of the sayings for which Padre Pio is most famous is, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” Bova said her first encounter with the saint was seeing those words written on a license plate frame.
Peter Smith, also a parishioner of St. Patrick’s, was especially glad to be able to see the Padre Pio relics. At his confirmation, he took Pio as his confirmation name.
“I’m named after Saint Peter, and my Aunt Terry turned me on to Padre Pio. The more I learned about him, the greater the connection to him. He’s a strong saint, a powerful saint. He really inspired me,” Smith said.
“When I heard the relics were coming, I knew I had to be here. It was really awesome to see a relic tied to Padre Pio. Ever since I was 13, I’ve had a connection to him. It’s just amazing to get to see something touched to a relic. It’s really awesome,” he added.
The man known to the world as Saint Pio, also known as Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, was born on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Benevento, Italy as Francesco Forgione. He was an Italian Franciscan Capuchin, friar, stigmatic, and mystic. His parents, Grazio Mario Forgione and Maria Giuseppa Di Nunzio, were deeply religious peasant farmers.
Francesco later said that by the time he was five years old, he had already decided to dedicate his entire life to God. He entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Morcone on Jan. 6, 1903 and took the Franciscan habit on Jan. 22 that same year. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1910. In 1916, he was moved to the agricultural community of Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, in the Province of Foggia, Italy. He remained in that community until his death in 1968 except for a brief period of military service.
He was devoted to Rosary meditations, often praying 35 holy Rosaries a day. He first began experiencing signs of the stigmata (wounds that correspond to the wounds of Christ on the cross) in 1911, only a year after his ordination. In 1918, he had a reappearance of the stigmata, which remained with him until the end of his life, 50 years later. The blood that flowed from his stigmata wounds is said to have smelled of perfume or flowers.
In the 1920s, Padre Pio was restricted by the Vatican from saying Mass publicly, blessing people, answering letters, or showing his stigmata publicly. He underwent several medical examinations to ascertain the veracity of his stigmata wounds. Additionally, Padre Pio is said to have the gift of bilocation and reading souls, of which the Vatican was also skeptical.
In 1933, Pope Pius XI ordered a reversal on the ban on Padre Pio regarding public celebration of Mass. In 1934, Padre Pio was again allowed to hear confessions. In the mid-1960s, Pope Paul VI dismissed all accusations against him.
Padre Pio was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on May 2, 1999 and canonized on June 16, 2002. His feast day is Sept. 23. He is the Patron Saint of Pietrelcina, Italy; civil defense volunteers; and adolescents.
By Lauren Gross, Special to The Witness