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May 03, 2018
METUCHEN — Hundreds of faithful from throughout the state and beyond flocked to the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi April 17 to venerate the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the first priest in the history of the Catholic Church who bore the stigmata of Christ.
The daylong event, sponsored by the New York-based St. Pio Foundation, marked the 50th anniversary of the Italian Capuchin friar’s passing and was a stop on the tour of the saint’s relics throughout the United States from March to November. It included periods for the sacrament of reconciliation and a Mass celebrated by Msgr. Robert J. Zamorski, rector, Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
A stream of adorers queued to the back of the Cathedral waited patiently to visit the display of relics flanked by members of the Knights of Columbus standing at attention. Upon the table lay reliquaries containing St. Pio’s glove, crusts of his wounds, blood-stained cotton gauze, a lock of hair and a handkerchief soaked with his sweat. The saint’s mantle hung nearby. Many knelt and reached out to touch the relics in prayer.
An afternoon prayer service for the parish school students was celebrated by Bishop James F. Checchio, who shared an anecdote from his days as a newly ordained priest. He had asked the students who were the saints, and a youngster gave him a simple yet profound reply.
“The boy told me, ‘The saints are the people that the light shines through in the windows,’ like these windows here in our church,” the bishop recalled. “They brighten the darkness in our lives, and bring the light of the Father in heaven to earth, especially when we are in need.”
Bishop Checchio told the congregation that, as a youth, Padre Pio was able to see and speak with his guardian angel and Jesus himself, a “special grace he received which showed his closeness to God even from a very young age.”
“He joined the Capuchin order, the Franciscans, so he could bring the light of God to all of us,” the bishop continued. “St. Pio was able to see into the souls of others, and bestowed the sacrament of penance for hours each day.
“Just as Padre Pio was the light of God coming to us, just as we see it coming through the windows of the saints, each of us is asked to do that same thing. Each one of us is called to bring the light of the Father more fully into the world, and assist others on their journey back to the Father. Each one of us is called to be a saint, too. Our goal is nothing less than to be a saint.”
Padre Pio was born May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, southern Italy, and entered into the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at age 15. Though of feeble health, he was ordained a priest in 1910. Known as a mystic with miraculous powers of healing, the stigmata of Christ appeared on his body in 1918 and remained until his death.
In 1940, Padre Pio announced plans to develop a Home for the Relief of Suffering (the Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza) in a remote, poor area atop Mount Gargano, four hours from Rome. It opened its doors in 1956 as a 300-bed facility and today thrives as a 1,000-bed haven for the sick.
Padre Pio died in 1968 and was declared a saint by then Pope, now St. John Paul II in Rome in 2002.
Deacon J. P. Saggese, who exercises his ministry at the Cathedral Parish, first encountered the power of the Capuchin friar’s healing as a youth in Rome. He and a friend were touring the area when, unbeknownst to him, the pair entered what had been the future saint’s cell, or house.
“I felt a wave come over me, and I am convinced it was the Holy Spirit,” Deacon Saggese said. “Clearly, Padre Pio became an inspiration to me towards the diaconate. I have a bumper sticker on my truck with his motto: ‘Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.’”
By Christina Leslie, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit