Saint Padre Pio’s relics are touring the United States this year. I recently caught up with the tour at Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Kokomo, Indiana (the other Kokomo, not the one in the song!). This particular tour throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico began in 2018 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Saint Padre Pio’s entry into eternal life. May you all have a Blessed Feast Day of Saint Padre Pio today.
For my non-Catholic readers, relics are physical items associated with someone the Church officially recognizes as a Saint, that is, someone deceased who is now in Heaven. Relics may be part of the person’s body or something he or she wore or touched. Catholics venerate relics by touching or praying in their presence to focus on the particular Saint’s virtues and ask for that Saint’s prayer or intercession in the presence of God in Heaven.
Saint Padre Pio is recognized for the virtues of healing the sick and faithfulness in suffering. During his lifetime, he heard many confessions and founded a hospital for the sick in Pietrelcina, a remote and impoverished area of Italy. He bore the physically visible stigmata of Christ in his hands, feet and side, the only priest to have received this grace. His relics presented for veneration at St. Patrick’s Church included a cloth with a blood stain, a glove, a lock of hair, a crust of his wounds, a handkerchief, and a robe he wore.
The church is beautiful. It was built in the early 1900’s, on the site of the original church dating back to 1859. The stained glass windows are very detailed, made of opalescent glass made in Kokomo by a company founded in 1859. These particularly lovely windows illustrate events in Mary’s life, starting in the back left to the front. The life of Jesus is illustrated in the series of windows from the back right to the front. One of the volunteers kindly brought me up to the choir loft, containing a stained glass window with an image of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music. From there, I could take pictures of the interior of the church with its beautiful ceiling arches and sanctuary.
Long lines of pilgrims passed through the church all day and lingered in small groups to pray.
By the time of the evening Mass dedicated to Saint Pio, the spacious pews were packed. I was struck by the variety of people present, their enthusiastic loud singing, and the rapt attention they paid to the Mass. The liturgy was reverent, with carefully chosen readings (Jeremiah 9:22-23, portions of Psalm 15, , Galations 6:14-18, and Matthew 11: 25-30). The Communion hymn was one of my favorites, The Servant Song. The worship booklet even contained two of my favorite prayers (St. Gertrude’s Prayer and St. Padre Pio’s Communion Meditation).
I prayed to Saint Pio for our suffering Church. To my sadness and consternation, my first thought when I saw the many priests who concelebrated Mass that evening, was to wonder how many of them were good priests faithful to their vows rather than to give silent thanks for their vocations to serve the Church. The sins of unfaithful priests and the institutional coverup of evil grievously impacts all priests, consecrated persons, and the laity. Together we are one body in the Church and the pain of abuse victims is our pain too, as are the failures that permitted that pain to be inflicted and unacknowledged.
Saint Padre Pio has much to teach us about suffering and trust in the face of condemnation and injustice. Together we must each strive for individual holiness to heal the Church and alleviate the suffering of victims of sin and those hurt indirectly by scandal. As I looked around me at St. Patrick’s pews full of men, women, and children gazing at the altar and praising the Lord enthusiastically in song and prayer, I saw hope in these faces of the Church. Saint Padre Pio, pray for us.