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June 13, 2002
Vatican names 'Padre Pio' saint amid celebrations
VATICAN CITY -- A full day of celebrations Sunday for the sainthood of Padre Pio -- the mystic Italian monk who has become one of the
church's most revered figures -- included one of the largest masses ever held in St. Peter's Square.
More than 30 events took place in the blistering heat around Rome Sunday in the memory of Pio, who died in 1968.
Before a crowd estimated at 200,000, the mass was celebrated in part by frail Pope John Paul II, who has been forced to scale back his
activities for health reasons.
Several prelates carried out the rest of the 2 1/2 -hour services.
Other activities included special processions through Rome's streets and a special evening gathering of Catholic pilgrims, many of
whom traveled to Rome specifically for the day's activities.
"Padre Pio's example has inspired me since I was a young girl and I decided to arrange my trip to Rome to coincide with these
activities," said Gloria Ramseed, 63, who traveled to Rome from Maryland and attended both the Sunday morning mass and an evening
mass prayer service near Rome's Piazza Venezia.
The day's activities took place despite the hottest day of the year so far, with television news programs reporting that temperatures in St.
Peter's Square at the time of the mass reaching 98 degrees (37 degrees C) with 80 percent humidity. More than 500 people had to be
treated for heat-related health problems, and Vatican officials were forced to hand out bottles of water to help combat the heat.
Pio is best known for living since the 1930s with bleeding wounds on his hands and feet, like those Jesus suffered during his
crucifixion. His image rivals that of John Paul and Jesus among those appearing on official products sold at the Vatican.
To become a saint, the Vatican requires at least two certified miracles that can be attributed to the figure after his or her death. In the
case of Pio, the Vatican said than an inexplicable recovery by an elderly woman with a critical chest ailment in 1995 and the recovery of a
small boy in a meningitis-induced coma at a hospital Pio founded were both tied to the intercession of the monk.
During his remarks during the mass, John Paul also revealed how he sought out the revered monk to hear his confession in 1947,
when the 82-year-old pontiff was a young priest working in newly communist Poland.
"I had the pleasure back in my younger days, of taking advantage of (Padre Pio's) availability in penance," the pope said.
Pio's cause has been an important one for John Paul, who championed his case even though the bearded figure was once a
controversial one at the Vatican. In the past, church officials doubted the authenticity of Pio's wounds and criticized his activities and
virtue. But under John Paul, the process to have Pio named a saint moved smoothly.
"Though Pio was a controversial figure during his lifetime, his saintliness was never doubted under John Paul," the Rev. Alistair Sear, a
church historian. "The pope has said that Pio represents an example for trying times."
Amid all the activities, one subject not mentioned was the recent meeting by American bishops bent on healing the wounds of recent
sex-related scandals within the church by giving regular Catholics a greater role in policing church officials. In Dallas, bishops on
Saturday unveiled a plan that creates a national board to monitor problem acts.
But the Vatican -- which in the past has been criticized for being slow to react to the U.S. scandals -- was silent on the subject Sunday,
preferring to focus on the activities surrounding the sainthood of the popular Pio.
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