Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thousands flock to exhumed body of saint Padre Pio

The exhumed body of Padre Pio, a saint considered a miracle worker by his devotees, attracted thousands of pilgrims when it went on display 40 years after his death.

Padre Pio is one of the Catholic Church's most popular saints and during his lifetime the Italian monk was said to have had the stigmata, the bleeding wounds of Jesus' crucifixion on his hands and feet.

The economy of this southern town revolves around the cult of Padre Pio and heaving crowds waited to see his body, displayed in a crystal, marble and silver sepulchre in the crypt of the monastery where he spent most of his life.

His face was reconstructed with a lifelike silicone mask of the type used in wax museums because it was apparently too decomposed to show when the body was exhumed.

"He seems like he is sleeping. Even if they had to re-do the face, its better remembering him this way than looking at a slab of cold marble," said Domenico Masone, Deputy Mayor of Pietralcina, the town where Padre Pio was born.

Some 15,000 devotees attended a Mass said by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican department that oversees the Catholic Church's saint-making process, before the body went on display in the afternoon.

"He knows what I want from him," said Antonio Zimbaldi, 19, who attended Mass with his face, except for his lips, covered with white gauze.

"I have been devoted to him for as long as I can remember."

Mr Zimbaldi's entire body was burned in a fire caused by a gas explosion two years ago.

The body of the bearded Capuchin monk was exhumed from a crypt on March 3 and found to be in "fair condition" after 40 years.

Since then a team of medical examiners and biochemists has worked to preserve and reconstruct the corpse.

In the sepulchre, he was dressed in a brown Capuchin habit and wore fingerless gloves he used to absorb blood from wounds on his hands. The mask was made by a London company which makes life-like sculpted figures for museums.


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