St. Pio's relics to be displayed

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By William Cone


Through the years, thousands of pilgrims visited a Capuchin priest known for holiness and wisdom. Now relics from the man known as Padre Pio are set to visit Pittsburgh.

St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood will host the relics May 9 of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the 20th century mystic and healer. The items will include:

• Some of the saint’s hair.

• Dried blood from his stigmata — mysterious wounds similar to those Jesus suffered on the cross.

• His Capuchin habit.

• His priestly vestments.

• A glove he used to cover his stigmata.

The relics will be on public display between two liturgies: a Mass celebrated by Bishop David Zubik at 12:05 p.m., and an 8 p.m. prayer service led by Capuchin Father Thomas Betz, the Capuchin Franciscan provincial in Pittsburgh.

The Saint Pio Foundation, which is sponsoring the relics tour, will sell books and items related to St. Pio in the Fifth Avenue entryway of the cathedral.

In the Catholic Church, relics are physical objects associated with a saint or candidate for sainthood — part of the person’s body or something that he or she was in contact with. Relics are not worshiped but treated with respect.

Touching or praying in the presence of such an object helps the faithful focus on the saint’s life and virtues, so that through the saint’s prayer the individual will be drawn closer to God.

The items will be inside protective coverings on which people will be permitted to place rosaries and other religious articles.

St. Pio was born May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy, and baptized as Francesco Forgione. He first expressed his desire to become a priest at age 10. In order to pay for the preparatory education, his father, Grazio Forgione, emigrated in 1899 to what is now New Castle, Pennsylvania, where he worked for several years.

The future saint entered the Capuchin order at 15 years old, taking the name Pio. He was ordained a priest in 1910 at age 23. During his lifetime, Padre Pio was known as someone with miraculous powers of healing and knowledge who bore the stigmata, a term used to describe the wounds an individual receives that correspond to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus. They can appear on the forehead, hands, wrists and feet.

His stigmata emerged during World War I, after Pope Benedict XV asked Christians to pray for an end to the conflict. Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ pierced his side. A few weeks later, on Sept. 20, 1918, Jesus again appeared to him, and he received the full stigmata. It remained with him until his death Sept. 23, 1968.

Pope John Paul II canonized him in 2002.

More information about St. Pio is at The Saint Pio Foundation promotes awareness of St. Pio and his mission by working with institutions and individuals to serve “those in need of relief of suffering.” Funds raised by the foundation are used to provide grants to American Catholic health care, educational, social, religious and cultural partner organizations.