Thursday, April 24, 2008

Padre Pio's body goes on public display

According to The Times, the body of Padre Pio went on public display in San Giovanni Rotondo, in Puglia to mark 40 years since his death and the 90th anniversary of the first appearance of stigmata on his hands and feet.

Thousands of devotees gathered to pray as the body of the mystic monk was unveiled by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, after an open-air Mass.

“Today, we venerate his body, opening a particularly intense period of pilgrimage,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins said.

“This body is here, but Padre Pio is not only a corpse. Looking at his remains we remember all the good that he has made,” he told worshippers in San Giovanni Rotondo where Padre Pio used to live and was buried.

Cardinal Saraiva Martins had a private viewing of the body in the church crypt with other officials who prayed around a casket enclosed in crystal containing the corpse. A British-made silicone mask bearing the features of Padre Pio covered the saint’s face.

The exhumation of Padre Pio’s body - the first time the tomb had been opened since his death in 1968 - was approved by the Vatican despite opposition from some of the saint's most fervent followers. Padre Pio's relatives even threatened to take the local archbishop to court if the corpse was exhumed, and a group of devotees threatened legal action.

Since the unearthing last month, the body has been prepared for veneration in Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Officials at the church said there was no sign of the stigmata, the marks of the wounds of Christ which made Padre Pio famous, and that the body was in good condition.

Padre Pio was canonised by the late Pope John Paul II in 2002. His image is displayed in, homes, shops, garages, vehicles and piazzas throughout Italy.

However for decades after the appearance of stigmata on his hands and feet in 1918, many in the Vatican were uneasy about his popularity and scorned him, doubting the authenticity of his wounds and mystical virtues. He was banned from saying Mass in public for a number of years.

An Italian historian, Sergio Luzzatto, recently caused controversy with a book on Padre Pio in which he claimed documents in the Vatican archives suggested Padre Pio may have faked his stigmata with acid, and also had "intimate and incorrect relations with women". Vatican officials say both allegations were fully taken into account in the beatification and canonisation process. Followers of Padre Pio believe he exuded "the odour of sanctity", had the gift of bilocation (being in two places at once), healed the sick and could prophesy the future.

Organizers say they expect 15,000 people to pay their respects to Padre Pio on the first day of the viewing, his tomb is visited by seven million pilgrims annually. The date of reburial has not yet been confirmed but the body is likely to be on display for several months.

Pictures can be seen on the BBC website