PILGRIMS gathered under a blazing sky in Rome last Sunday to witness the canonisation of Padre Pio — the 20th century Capuchin monk who bore the stigmata and whose life of holiness won him a devoted following worldwide.
Forming one of the largest crowds ever at the Vatican, 300,000 pilgrims cheered as Pope John Paul II declared Padre Pio di Pietreclina a saint — the 462nd of his pontificate. He told the faithful that prayer and charity were the legacy of a man who should encourage priests to cany out their ministry with joy and assiduousness. "The new saint invites us to place God above all, and to consider him our sole and highest good," the Pope said.
At San Giovanni Rotondo, the house founded by Padre Pio in southern Italy, some 60,000 also went to bear witness to "the spirituality of the cross lived by the humble Capuchin of Pietreclina", and in Argentina, Catholics gathered at La Piedad Church in Buenos Aires for a Mass in his honour.
During his lifetime, St Pio was often suspected of being a fraud, but during Vatican investigations he was totally obedient to his superiors, even though he was forbidden from saying Mass in public or hearing confessions.
His cause was of special interest to the Pope, who as a young man travelled to Italy to make his confession to Padre Pio, and has prayed for his canonisation since his death aged 81 years in 1968.
St Pio was reputed to have had the powers of bi-location, levitation and prophecy, and was even said to have wrestled with the devil in his cell.
Three of the people cured through Pio's intercession were present for the canonisation in Rome. Consiglia De Martino was cured of a terminal illness in 1992 and Matteo Pio Colella, 10, was cured of a fatal form of meningitis. When he awoke from a coma, he told doctors an old man with a white beard had come to him and told him he would get well.
Wanda Poltawska, a Polish psychiatrist suffering from throat cancer, was cured 11 days after the Pope, then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, asked Padre Pio to pray for her.
In his homily, the Holy Father said: `Me life and mission of Padre No prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness which opens to prospects of a greater good, known only to the Lord:' St Pio's feast day will be September 23, the anniversary of his death.