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.
Relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina— better known as Padre Pio — begin a United States tour on May 6 that runs through May 21 with stops in several dioceses.
The exciting news comes from the Saint Pio Foundation, the official sponsors of this visit currently scheduled to run through Sept. 29.
“We understood this year is very important with two celebrations for Padre Pio,” points out Luciano Lamonarca, the 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 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.
When Lamonarca asked the head friar if he would consider allowing the foundation to bring relics of the saint on this tour “so people can pray to Padre Pio and ask for his intercession, he agreed.”
This will be a two-part tour — the first in May, the second in September.
First Tour Opening
The tour opens on May 6 at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. People will be able to venerate Padre Pio’s relic through Monday, May 8. That day will include a 7:30 p.m. Mass of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and the conclusion of the presentation of the relics.
“We’re hoping it will inspire people to holiness in life, Father Gerald Dennis Gill, the cathedral’s rector and pastor, said before the opening. That hope is for people to “recognize a true and intentional disciple of our Lord and convert themselves more fully to that type of discipleship.”
Father Gill explained that one thing they also want to do at the cathedral is to help people understand “there’s a singular type of intimacy with the saint when his relics are present.”
The next stop is the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Saint Paul Cathedral on May 9. Bishop David Zubik will celebrate Mass, and the Capuchin provincial from Pittsburgh will lead an evening prayer service.
This location has a distinctive connection to Padre Pio’s own father, Grazio Forgione, too. Lamonarca explains, “His father left Pietrelcina to go abroad to provide economic support for Padre Pio to become a priest.” He first went to Brazil, which did not work out, then eventually to New Castle, about 50 miles from Pittsburgh. He spent more than 10 years there and brought with him Padre Pio’s brother.
In one sense, thanks to father Grazio being able to work all those years in New Castle to earn money for his son Padre Pio’s study to become a priest, “Pittsburgh was the first to provide support,” says Lamonarca.
After this, the tour travels to Denver, Lincoln, Nebraska, Los Angeles, and the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. See the schedule for exact dates both for this first part and for the September tour which includes stops at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, then in the archdioceses and dioceses of Milwaukee, La Crosse, Saginaw, and Bridgeport.
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, Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica and Vicar General of His Holiness for the Vatican City State.
He explains that because the glove was covering Padre Pio’s stigmata which bled and left blood stains on it, this is a first-class and a second-class relic.
“In September there will be a few more relics,” he adds. Which ones will not be confirmed until sometime this June.
Every church on the tour agreed to celebrate a Mass in honor of Padre Pio.
Lamonarca wants to make clear that these are smaller relics, and not the body of Padre Pio coming to America.
“They are important relics, but not his body. It is unlikely that the city and the Friars of San Giovanni Rotondo would allow that,” he emphasizes. The notion might have come because Pope Francis requested the saint’s body to be brought to the Vatican for several days in February 2016 during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Possible Tour Expansion
“We are considering to expand the tour into the first week of October,” Lamonarca says. They are already discussing with other dioceses, like Atlanta. In just a few days the foundation received more than 500 emails and requests concerning this tour. The foundation has sent information to bishops who must give permission for this in their diocese, of course.
Because there will be opportunity for donations at the stops, the foundation explains that the offerings raised will go to build the Via Crucis in Pietrelcina where Padre Pio received his first signs of the stigmata.
The Capuchins of Pietrelcina have been working on this project for years, trying to complete it. It is to be in a location where the saint's family had a piece of land. Now also a pilgrimage destination, it needs a Via Crucis — Way of the Cross — to remind everyone, explain the friars, “the first Padre Pio's crucifixion took place right there in 1910 at the foot of the famous ‘elm of the stigmata.’”
“This place is very holy where Padre Pio met Jesus,” says Lamonarca. “As a sign of recognition and gratitude to the friars, we will suggest that people could support that and fully fund this Via Crucis in Pietrelcina.” There will also be envelops for the opportunity for everyone to write their intentions and for then “prayers will be offered in Pietrelcina by the friars themselves,” Lamonarca assures.
“This has been a challenging project,” he 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.