Shrine of Padre Pio, San Giovanni Rotondo
The Shrine of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, southern Italy, is the second-most visited Catholic shrine in the world. It centers on the tomb of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, a Capuchin friar, priest and mystic known for his devotion to God, care for the sick, and supernatural gifts. Padre Pio died in 1968 and was declared a Saint in 2002.
In 1940, Padre Pio began plans to open a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, to be named the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza or Home for the Relief of Suffering. The hospital opened in 1956, and is considered one of the most efficient hospitals in Europe.
In 1956, construction began on a new church of Santa Maria delle Grazie to accommodate the many pilgrims who came to visit Padre Pio. Designed by Giuseppe Gentile Boiano, the church was consecrated by the Bishop of Foggia in 1959. This church remains the central focus of the sanctuary today.
In 1962, Bishop Karol Wojtyła, later Pope John Paul II, wrote to Padre Pio to ask him to pray to God for Dr. Wanda Poltawska, a friend in Poland who was suffering from cancer. Later, Dr. Poltawska’s cancer was found to have regressed; medical professionals were unable to offer an explanation for the regression. It is also rumored that during this time that Padre Pio had predicted Wojtyła would become Pope.
The priest died on September 23, 1968, clutching his rosary and uttering the words, “Jesus, Mary.” In death, his feet and hands showed no signs of the wounds of the stigmata: some saw this as evidence of fraud; others held it to be another miracle.
On May 2, 1999, Pope John Paul II declared Padre Pio “Blessed” and he was canonized a saint on June 16, 2002. Half a million people attended the declaration assembly.
The shrine of Padre Pio receives 7 million pilgrims each year and is second only to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in popularity. In response to this, the large and ultramodern Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church was dedicated in 2004 by Pope John Paul II. As of the year 2000, there were more than 50 new hotels in San Giovanni Rotondo to accommodate the increasing throngs of visitors.
On April 24, 2008, the body of Padre Pio was put on display in the crypt near his usual tomb, to mark the 40th anniversary of his death. The body was found partially decomposed upon exhumation, but the archbishop in charge (Domenico D’Ambrosio) described it as being in “surprisingly good condition…. We could clearly make out the beard. The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved. The knees, hands and nails all clearly visible.” There were no signs of the stigmata.
After the exhumation, the body of Padre Pio was repaired and preserved for display. His face, which has a very peaceful expression, is coated with a silicon mask and the top of the skull is covered by his monastic hood. The body will be on display indefinitely; hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have already come to see it.