Thousands of faithful spent time venerating the relics of St. Padre Pio March 4-5 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland. During the first hours, a long line snaked through the cathedral towards the Resurrection Chapel, where St. Pio’s relics were displayed on the altar above the relics of St. Christine, which were presented to Archbishop Joseph Schrembs in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
Six relics of St. Pio were available for public veneration: St. Pio’s glove, the crusts of the wounds from his stigmata, cotton gauze with his blood stains, a lock of St. Pio’s hair, St. Pio’s mantle and his handkerchief that was soaked with his sweat hours before he died. An honor guard formed by the Knights of St. John stood guard over the relics during public veneration.
Veneration was stopped during daily Masses and a Mass in honor of St. Pio was celebrated at noon on May 5.
Accompanying the relics was Luciano Lamonarca, founder, president and CEO of the Saint Pio Foundation. Lamonarca said the relics belong to Monsignor Pip Abresch, officer of the Congregation for Bishops.
This is the second time St. Pio’s relics have travelled to the United States. Last year, Lamonarca said about 250,000 people venerated the relics during their first visit to the U.S. The visit coincided with the 130th anniversary of St. Pio’s birth, the 15th anniversary of his canonization and the 50th anniversary of his death. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of St. Pio receiving the stigmata, the wounds Jesus endured during his crucifixion.
St. Pio’s stigmata emerged during World War I, after Pope Benedict XV asked Christians to pray for an end to the war. Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ pierced his side. A few weeks later, Sept. 20, 1918, Jesus again appeared to him, and he received the full stigmata, which remained with him until his death on Sept. 23, 1968, at age 81.
Pope John Paul II canonized him St. Pio of Pietrelcina in 2002.
Lamonarca, an opera singer and a native of Italy, developed a deep devotion to St. Pio several years ago after he and his wife, Valentina, suffered the loss of a premature baby. He said he lost his Catholic faith for a while, but decided to return to Italy, where he learned about St. Pio and met a priest who is one of the few surviving friends of the saint.
“He invited us to lunch and told us we would have more struggles, but that we would have a son,” Lamonarca said. He and his wife are now parents of a 2 ½- year-old son.
In 2014, he decided to create the Saint Pio Foundation and has helped with all aspects of the foundation, including fundraising. Lamonarca, a tenor, has performed at benefit concerts and rallied other celebrities, religious leaders and faithful to help with the cause. Noted actor Joe Mantegna even narrated a short film about St. Pio’s life.
Lamonarca said he was inspired for the foundation to sponsor the first tour of St. Pio’s relics. In 2017, 18 cities hosted the relics. This year, the tour includes 38 U.S. cities – some of which are repeat visits — plus stops in Mexico and Canada. Lamonarca expects about 600,000-700,000 people will venerate the relics this year. Bishop William Callahan of the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, helped facilitate the tour and to obtain support from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In addition to Cleveland, some of the archdioceses and dioceses to host the relics are Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Denver and Seattle. Lamonarca said most visits last two days.
“The main reason I did this was to allow people to have a spiritual encounter with St. Pio,” Lamonarca said. “At least half of the people will never get to Italy, but we are fostering a devotion to Padre Pio.” Lamonarca said he was “pleasantly surprised” at how much devotion there is to St. Pio.
Padre Pio was born on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy. His baptismal name was Francesco Forgione. At age 10 he first expressed an interested in the priesthood. In order to pay for his education, his father travelled to the U.S. and worked here for several years.
Young Francesco entered the Capuchin order at age 15 and took the name Pio. He was ordained a priest at age 23 in 1910. During his lifetime, he was known as a mystic with miraculous powers of healing and knowledge. He spent long hours in prayer and lived in austerity. In 1956, he founded Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the Home for Relief of Suffering in one of the most remote, desolate and poorest areas of Italy atop Mount Gargano, four hours from Rome.
What began as a 300-bed hospital today has tripled in size and is a modern hospital for treatment of body and soul that never turns anyone away, regardless of the ability to pay.
For more information on St. Pio and the Saint Pio Foundation, visit saintpiofoundation.org.