Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Several relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina — better known as Padre Pio — are returning to the United States for this second part of the 2017 United States tour that begins on September 16. The tour will have stops in several dioceses.
The news comes from the Saint Pio Foundation, the official sponsors of this visit currently scheduled to run through Oct. 6.
On this second tour there will be several relics of Padre Pio for veneration: Saint Pio's glove; Saint Pio's crusts of the wounds; cotton-gauze with Saint Pio's blood stains; a lock of Saint Pio's hair; Saint Pio's mantle; and Saint Pio's handkerchief soaked with his sweat hours before he died. (See photos of relics here.)
“We understood this year is very important with two celebrations for Padre Pio,” points out Luciano Lamonarca, the Saint Pio Foundation’s president and CEO. The year 2017 marks Padre Pio’s 130th birth anniversary and the 15th anniversary of his canonization. Another saint, John Paul II, canonized him in 2002.
The Saint Pio Foundation, which celebrated its third anniversary on April 4, has been very active in preserving the legacy of Padre Pio and promoting him in many ways. Lamonarca says that it was now the time “to bring Padre Pio inside the church” in a way to foster greater “devotion to him.” The foundation has already been active in its three years giving the type of help to those needing it in ways Padre Pio would approve.
This relic tour developed right after Dec. 12, 2016, when the Saint Pio Foundation signed an agreement with the Friars Minor Capuchin of Pietrelcina who designating this foundation as their official U.S. representative. The foundation’s religious advisory council consists of two cardinals and several archbishops and bishops.
Lamonarca believes the first part of the tour was a revelation. “We did not know what to expect, obviously, because we never organized a tour of the relics,” he says. “So, it was far more than we expected. The highlight I believe was the Mass in honor of Padre Pio at the Cathedral in Pittsburgh, and at St. Andrew Church in Pasadena, California.” More than 2,200 faithful attended the Mass on Tuesday morning in Pittsburgh and the same number attended the Thursday evening Mass in Pasadena.
What is he looking forward to with this part of the tour?
Lamonarca says, “Just to do what we are supposed to do: to foster devotion to Padre Pio, and to allow those faithful that request his intercession to have a more spiritual experience by venerating, and touch the reliquaries containing the relics.”
The tour opens on Sept. 16 at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers in the Archdiocese of New York. On the following days, Sept. 17-18, people will be able to venerate Padre Pio’s relic a few miles away in Manhattan at St. Patrick Cathedral. Cardinal Timothy Dolan will celebrate Mass on Sunday at 10:15 for this occasion.
For September 20, 2017 the tour moves to the Cathedral St. Joseph the Workman in the Diocese of La Crosse. Besides veneration, there will be two Masses that day, one celebrated by Bishop William Callahan.
“With joyful thanksgiving to God, the relics of Padre Pio will be received in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin,” Bishop Callahan told the Register. “The significance of this event connects to many other important and sacred moments in the life of the Diocese.”
This visit of Padre Pio’s relics ties into the diocese’s strong saintly connections. Bishop Callahan explained that “First and foremost, the Diocese rejoices in the Beatification of a native son, Venerable Solanus Casey, on November 18 in Detroit. Secondly, the Diocese praises God for the life of one of our own priests, the Servant of God, Father Joseph Walijewski, whose formal case for beatification will be sent to Rome on March 19, 2018.”
There is yet another diocesan connection to Padre Pio.
“There is a deep Franciscan foundation in the La Crosse Diocese,” Bishop Callahan explained. “Early history of the diocese shows extensive ministry by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and the Third Order of Saint Francis. Capuchin Friars — Saint Pio’s own Community —served in the diocese for many years. My own personal connection to the Franciscan community as well as the deep Franciscan roots of our diocese connect us to the heroic virtue of Saint Pio and other holy men and women whose lives of faith and service inspire us.”
Bishop Callahan’s hopes for this relic stop in his diocese is equally applicable to every stop on the tour. “It is my hope,” he explained, “that everyone who makes a pilgrimage to venerate the relics will be inspired to learn more about the life of Saint Pio and follow his example.”
Next stop is at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Sept. 21, then to another cathedral, basilica and major churches in dioceses beginning with the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, for two stops, one on Sept. 22-23, then another on Sept. 24.
The tour continues at two churches (first, second) in Archdiocese of Chicago, then in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, in the Diocese of Saginaw, then Diocese of Providence, next Archdiocese of Atlanta (Mass with Archbishop Wilton Gregory), Archdiocese of New Orleans, and concluding in the Diocese of St. Augustine.
Every church on the tour agreed to celebrate a Mass in honor of Padre Pio.
One of the relics for veneration during the May tour is a glove worn by Padre Pio. Lamonarca says that the glove is being loaned by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Vicar General of the Holy Father for Vatican City State, and the Archpriest of Papal Basilica of St. Peter. He also preached spiritual exercises to the Curia at the invitation of Pope St. John Paul II.
During a visit to Rome, president Lamonarca met with Cardinal Comastri. During that meeting concerning the Padre Pio relic tour in the United States, the cardinal imparted his blessing to all attending the public veneration of the relics of Padre Pio.
Cardinal Comastri in an official letter spoke about the importance of family for Padre Pio, and the importance of family for everyone. In it he wrote:
“The pilgrimage of the relics of Padre Pio in several cathedrals and churches in the United States of America may awaken faith in families so that they might become a little Nazareth where the children could breathe in the gospel from the example of their parents.
“May Our Lady, whom Padre Pio loved deeply, bless you, dear pilgrims, from Heaven, and may she place in your hearts all the joy of her Magnificat!”
U.S. Tie-in and Prayers
The U.S. visit ties into Padre Pio’s own family. Lamonarca explains that the saint’s own father, Grazio Forgione, “left Pietrelcina to go abroad to provide economic support for Padre Pio to become a priest.” He first went to Brazil, then eventually to New Castle, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles from Pittsburgh. He spent more than 10 years there and brought with him Padre Pio’s brother. Dad Grazio working all those years in the United States earned money for his son Padre Pio’s study to become a priest.
“We are taking prayer intentions and free will donations,” he says. These donations “are used to support the Mission of the Saint Pio Foundation, as well to cover the expenses related to the tour of the relics for this year, and perhaps for the one of next year as well.”
“This has been a challenging project,” Lamonarca says. But one well worth the effort to honor Padre Pio and give many people the chance to venerate his relics and pray for his intercession.”
See the full tour schedule at the Saint Pio Foundation.