Throughout the day on Saturday, thousands of people lined up at St. Gabriel's Church in Elma for the chance to venerate several relics of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. One by one, they took turns walking up to a table and were allowed to briefly touch some of the relics which included Saint Pio's crusts of the wounds, cotton-gauze with his blood stains, a lock of Saint Pio's hair, his mantle, and a handkerchief soaked with his sweat hours before he died. Touching or praying in the presence of such an object helps a faithful individual focus on the saint's life and virtues, so that through the saint's prayer or intercession before God, the individual will be drawn closer to God.
"Many of us treasure relics of our own," said Bishop Richard J. Malone to nearly a thousand people who gathered for a morning Mass. The bishop pointed out that some relics can be unusual, like the worn out purse he keeps from his late aunt. "She was clearly one of the holiest women I've ever known in my life. When I hold this worn out purse in my hand, I feel like I'm holding something holy because it belonged to a holy person. Of course when we come to venerate the relics of a Canonized saint, we know it's raised to an even higher level. We pray to saints because we know they are close to the Holy Trinity."
St. Pio was born on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, and baptized Francesco Forgione. The future saint entered the Capuchin order at age 15, taking the name Pio. He was ordained a priest in 1910 at the age of 23. During his lifetime, Padre Pio was known as a mystic with miraculous powers of healing and knowledge, who bore the stigmata. Stigmata is the term the Catholic Church uses to speak about the wounds an individual receives that correspond to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. 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 September 20, 1918, Jesus again appeared to him, and he received the full stigmata. It remained with him until his death on September 23, 1968. Pope John Paul II canonized him in 2002.
Although some came from southern Ontario or central New York for the one day chance to venerate the relics, Clara Jablonski came from nearby West Seneca but walked in with the help of a cane. "We're having a lot of health issues in the family and I'd just like everybody to be better. We took a rosary cross and rubbed it against the blood and the relics and it's very wonderful to do that," said Jablonski, who brought along her son, Paul and daughter Catherine Brauen. "It's very touching and very moving and I was compelled to come here. That's why we're all here because it was very important to come," said Brauen.
The relics came as part of a visit from the Saint Pio Foundation, a national charitable organization that promotes awareness of Saint Pio and his mission by working with institutions and individuals who share the same vision to serve "those in need of relief of suffering." Funds raised by the Saint Pio Foundation are used to provide grants to American Catholic healthcare, educational, social, religious, and cultural partner organizations. More information about Saint Pio Foundation can be found at http://www.saintpiofoundation.org.
Although these relics were on display for just one day in the Diocese of Buffalo, many people may not be aware that a first class relic of Saint Padre Pio is permanently hosted at St. John Gualbert Parish in Cheektowaga, where more than a thousand other relics of saints are housed.
On this crisp sunny spring day, Bishop Malone summed up his closing remarks at Mass with some words that Saint Padre Pio himself would advise; "Pray, hope and don't worry."