Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meeting Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

The year 2008 marked the 40th year of Padre Pio's death.  In observance of the said occasion, the exhumed remains of the beloved Italian saint was put on display at the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie.  Thousands of devotees from all over the world came to the quaint town of San Giovanni Rotonda in Foggia, Puglia, Italy to pay their respects to the capuchin friar.

A portrait of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
We were indeed blessed since our travel to Italy coincided with the schedule of the public viewing of the remains of Padre Pio.   We did not think twice of foregoing our plan of visiting Naples so that we can make a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo during the last week of our trip.      

We knew that the train ride from Rome to Foggia would take about four to five hours.  Hence, we decided to take the train enroute to Lecce which leaves just after midnight so we can make the most out of our one day trip to the pilgrimage site.

A busy Roma Termini just before midnight (Photo credit: Raymund Zapanta)

It was still dark when we arrived in Foggia at about five o'clock in the morning.  As the second trip of the bus that goes to San Giovanni Rotonda would not arrive at least one hour and twenty minutes after, we decided to grab something to fill our empty stomachs at the convenience store just across the train station.   

Foggia Train Station at dawn  (Photo credit: Raymund Zapanta)

 A lot of people were already in the area by the time the bus that will bring us to San Giovanni Rotondo arrived.  We excitedly hopped aboard the vehicle and chatted away the one hour trip. 

A stunning sunrise greeted us as we make our way
to San Giovanni Rotondo (Photo credit: Jun Pimentel)

Chilling wind greeted us when we alighted the bus.  The skies were overcast and we thought that rain would likely fall.  

Early morning in San Giovanni Rotondo (Photo credit: Raymund Zapanta)

We held on tight to our coats as we walked a few blocks to the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie, the church which housed the remains of Padre Pio.  We cannot wait to see Padre Pio!

Church of Santa Maria della Grazie 

To reach the crypt were the body of the miraculous saint was displayed, we entered the side door of the church.  We passed through a corridor filled with memorabilia of Saint Pio, including his confessional box where spent an average of 12 hours per day.  It is said that Padre Pio often told the penitents all the sins they have committed even before they could confess them.  

We also saw a wax figure of Pope John Paul II, who was said to be a close friend of Padre Pio.  We also watched a short video of the last mass performed by the capuchin friar and the exhumation of his remains.   

I had goosebumps as I walked towards the dimly-lit hall where Padre Pio's body laid.  The first image I saw was an old lady kneeling and fervently praying in front of the capuchin friar.   I could feel her sincerity as she whispered her prayers.   


Eager as I was to see the incorrupt body of Saint Pio, I nevertheless took my sweet time walking towards him.  

Before I went near the beloved saint, I carefully read the inscription on the wall.  I didn't know how to read Italian. I could only pick out a few familiar words, but I tried my best to interpret what the message on the wall meant.   I believed that Pope Paul VI's message was that Padre Pio performed a lot of miracles and that we was famous around the world for them.  Was Padre Pio a philosopher?  Saint Pio was the Lord's representative, he having the same stigmata of the Lord.  Padre Pio was a man who liked to pray.   

I later learned that the message is translated as "The same miracle will happen for you, as it happened for Padre Pio... See the fame he had, the world-wide clientele he gathered around him. Why did this happen? Perhaps because he was a philosopher, because he was wise, because he had great means at his disposal? No - it was because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from morning till night and was - a hard thing to say - a representative of Our Lord, sealed with His very wounds. He was a man of prayer and suffering."

I slowly turned my eyes towards Padre Pio.  I gazed at his face.*  He looks peaceful, yet alive. It looked as if that he was just sleeping and would rise from his slumber any moment.   

I dropped to my knees and began to say my prayer.  It took a long while to say all the things coming from my heart.  I was indeed blessed to have come to Italy at that opportune time to see Padre Pio.  Not everyone would have such chance.

I don't know how long I gazed at the saint's face before I decided to walk around the room.  I never wanted to leave too soon.

As I walked around the room, I silently watched my fellow pilgrims whisper their fervent prayers.

As I climbed the stairs to exit the hall, I began to think about the life and miracles of Padre Pio.

Who was Padre Pio?  Why was he so loved by so many?  Why would millions of pilgrim visit his shrine and millions more ask for his intercession?

*It is said that a silicon mask was placed over Padre Pio's face when his remains were put on display.  

To be continued...

Sending you happy thoughts...

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