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Pope Declares Padre Pio Blessed

"Most Popular Beatification in History"

By John Vennari

On Sunday, May 2, 1999, Pope John Paul II beatified Padre Pio, the renowned Capuchin friar who bore for 50 years the miraculous stigmata, the bleeding wounds of Christ, on his hands and feet. The event has been headlined as the "Most Popular Beatification in History."

Some 15,000 tickets were issued for the service, which was held on St. Peter's Square amid strict security measures. Reports afterwards claim some 200,000 crammed into St. Peter's for the ceremony.

Officials said 600,000 people traveled to Rome for the event. They arrived on 6,000 buses, 19 special trains and in private automobiles.

A huge portrait of the friar smiling was unveiled at the facade of St. Peter's, as well as in simultaneous televised celebrations in Rome's St. John Lateran and in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town in southern Italy where Padre Pio spent most of his life until he died in 1968 at age 81.

It was nearly 10 a.m. Sunday morning when John Paul II pronounced the beatification formula: "After having received the opinion of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, We — the Pontiff read in Latin, the official language of the Church — respond to the desire of our brother Vicenzo da Dario, Archbishop of Manfredonia, and of many other brothers in the episcopate and of many faithful, and with our apostolic authority allow that the Venerable Servant of God, Pio of Pietrelcina, henceforth be called Blessed, and that his feast be celebrated in those places and according to the rules established by law, on the day of his birth in Heaven, September 23."

The thunderous applause of the more than 150,000 pilgrims from all the continents present in Saint Peter's Square greeted the words of Peter's successor. An applause that was echoed by more than 200,000 people in Saint John Lateran's Square.

Mrs. Consiglia de Martino was present during the solemn rite; it was her inexplicable cure — a miracle through the intercession of Padre Pio— that made his beatification possible. De Martino, a 47-year-old Italian mother of three, was said to have been healed of a chest ailment in 1995 after the invocation of Padre Pio's intercession. The Pope gave her communion during the beatification ceremony.

Besides Padre Pio's legendary fights with the devil, reports of his being in two places at the same time (bilocation) and his reputed ability to predict the future, most of his popularity came from his way of celebrating holy Mass and hearing confessions. He was renowned for the ability to read souls in the confessional, and to tell penitents accurately the secret sins they had failed to confess. During the holy friar's lifetime, thousands of Catholics flocked from all over the world to attend his Mass and receive from him the sacrament of Penance.

At the end of the beatification ceremony at the Vatican, John Paul II went by helicopter to Saint John Lateran, where the Pope reminded the pilgrims of Padre Pio's profound devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"He always encouraged, in the confessional as well as in predication: Love the Virgin!", said the Pope, who also talked about the special devotion of Father Pio to the rosary. "At the end of his earthly life, in the moment when he manifested his last will, he thought of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as he had done during his whole life: 'Love the Virgin and make Her loved. Always pray the Rosary'."

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