Devotees bid farewell to the incorrupt heart relic of Saint Padre Pio of Petrelcina on Oct. 26 after a 20-day tour across the country. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Filipino Catholics bid farewell to the incorrupt heart relic of Saint Padre Pio of Petrelcina on Oct. 26 after a 20-day tour across the country.
The saint's relic attracted up to 5 million devotees who queued for hours to get a chance to see and touch it.
"The response was extraordinary," said Father Joselin Gonda, rector of the National Shrine of Padre Pio in Batangas province.
Padre Pio can be considered the "Saint of the Millennium" with the number of people who lined up to pray before his incorrupt heart, the priest said.
"We were all surprised at the thousands of devotees who came to pray," said the priest.
The Philippine visit had the biggest number of devotees ever from all the countries that the heart relic has visited so far. The Philippines is the fourth country to be visited by the saint’s relic after the United States, Paraguay, and Argentina.
In a speech at the end of the farewell Mass, Capuchin priest Carlo Laborde, superior of the religious order, said the relic visit was unprecedented.
"Our hearts have been moved to see huge crowds everywhere," he said, adding that the devotion of the Filipino people is a "miracle of faith."
"We are returning to Italy, but we cannot but give witness to the miracle of faith that we personally encountered first hand in this land," said Father Laborde.
Father Gonda said Padre Pio's fame for performing miracles and healing might have been the reason behind people's devotion to the saint.
"Padre Pio has offered a lot of hope to Filipinos," said the priest, adding that the visit helped strengthen the faith of Filipinos who are always waiting for miracles to happen. "Padre Pio keeps that hope alive," he said.
He said that a time when Filipinos suffer from inflation, poverty and extrajudicial killings, "they want a meaningful symbol to offset what is happening to them."
"Padre Pio also suffered a lot, so they could relate to him," said the priest.
With the "extraordinary" crowd and the response of the people, Father Gonda said it is not impossible for the relic to return to the country.
Born on May 25, 1887, Padre Pio is one of the most popular saints in church history. In life, he is said to have carried the stigmata — the wounds of Christ that miraculously appeared on the saint's body — although an Italian historian has disputed this.
He is also remembered for having allegedly performed "bilocation" or appearing in different places at one time.
He died on Sept. 23, 1968. Devotion to the saint is now believed to have caused many miracles. The church proclaimed him a saint on June 16, 2002.