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Updated: March 27, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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Devotees of Saint Padre Pio in the Philippines say the visit of a woman who testifies that the new saint cured her years ago of blindness has brought "miracles" and more into their lives.

During a 17-day visit to the Philippines, Gemma di Giorgi told thousands of Filipinos the story of her healing by the Capuchin priest in 1947 when she received Communion for the first time.

Di Giorgi was born blind, without pupils in her eyes. Through an interpreter, the woman, now 63, recalled that Padre (Father) Pio had made the sign of the cross on her eyelids, and when she opened her eyes she saw the bearded priest and started to cry.

Though di Giorgi walks around unaided, the Italian government still considers her legally blind.

"I see with the eyes of God, not the eyes of my body," she told people at St. Francis Church in Mandaluyong City, just southeast of Manila.

"God has put Padre Pio like a radiant light for our century," di Giorgi told the 5,000 people gathered there March 5.

Her healing was among many miracles attributed to Padre Pio long before Pope John Paul II canonized him in June last year.

The Italian saint, who was born in 1887 and died in 1968, spent most of the 58 years of his priestly ministry working from a friary of his order in Italy. He was famed for holiness and his "stigmata" -- wounds in his hands, feet and side that corresponded to the wounds suffered by Jesus during his crucifixion.

He also established a prayer community that had 726 groups in more than 20 countries with some 68,000 members by the time of his beatification in 1999.

Though di Giorgi told Filipinos that anyone can make miracles happen through prayer, she also said "the greatest healing is the healing of souls," a message she echoed throughout her talks Feb. 19-March 8 in Manila and nearby areas, and in the central Philippine islands of Cebu and Negros.

"Seeing Filipinos really pray impressed me immensely," she said, telling various groups that the Filipino people´s "great faith" was "edifying." In the spirituality of St. Padre Pio, she explained, prayer, penance and sacrifice lead to conversion and charity.

"To pray means to give a good example, to give comfort to a sick person, or help to a poor person," di Giorgi told one crowd, stressing that the life of a Christian should be "a prayer in itself."

Di Giorgi´s visit was arranged by the Philippine Center of Saint Padre Pio and Padre Pio prayer groups in the country, particularly those in the Manila area and the central Philippines.

During and since the visit, the Saint Padre Pio center has since received several reports of "miraculous healing."

Many devotees, however, told UCA News that di Giorgi´s testimony affirmed their faith more than reports of miracles during her visit.

Lalin Basilio was struck by di Giorgi´s "docile bearing and simplicity," which she called "traits of a true follower of Christ." She said, "Gemma´s healing proves that God works miracles on those who completely trust in him."

Cay dela Cruz, a young executive who attended one of di Giorgi´s talks, said the woman´s story is "a modern day miracle that filled me with hope."

Didi Rodriguez, a member of the visit´s steering committee, told UCA News Saint Padre Pio center staff are reviewing miracles reported to them.

Among reports she cited were one of a woman healed of pain from a slipped disk and another of a clinically dead man who revived "after a handkerchief that touched the holy relic brought by Gemma was placed on his body."

In all of di Giorgi´s church visits, people lined up to touch and kiss the relics she brought that included a bloodied glove of the saint and a piece of his flesh she found attached to it.

One reported miracle involved a partially paralyzed woman who attended a Mass on March 3 organized by the Spirit of Love Community Prayer Group, which has a special devotion to Padre Pio.

During the Mass, the celebrant asked all those present to place their hands over their heart, community member Chito Bertol told UCA News. "Unknowingly the lady with the paralyzed hand lifted her hand to her heart," Bertol said, "and then she later realized that she was healed."

Myrna Serrano, secretary of the community, said the crowds who came to see di Giorgi on March 3 were amazed by her testimony and believed they could be healed just by touching the woman.

Some 3,000 people in Bacolod, 475 kilometers southeast of Manila on Negros Island, went to listen to her testimony at the Augustinian Recollect Fathers´ Monastery of St. Ezekiel Moreno. The crowd, mostly members of Padre Pio and charismatic prayer groups, could not fit in the church so television sets were set up in large tents outside the church for people to see and hear di Giorgi.

The Philippine Center for Padre Pio was established in 1985 to promote the priest´s cause for sainthood. Until Padre Pio´s canonization in 2002, its main purpose was to document miracles in the Philippines attributed to Padre Pio and send the evidence to Church authorities looking into the cause.


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