The Italian Almanac

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padre Pio

Padre Pio

Plans to exhume the body of Padre Pio, the Italian saint famed for his perpetually bleeding hands and supernatural powers, are meeting vigorous opposition from some of his relatives. San Pio's niece, Pia Forgione, and her eight children have already begun legal action aimed at stopping the exhumation and a formal court appeal will soon be lodged.

Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio has announced that the body of San Pio - who is still known to devotees as Padre Pio - will be taken out of his tomb and put on display later this year for pilgrims to see and venerate. San Pio died 40 years ago in September and the exhumation is one of a series of initiatives planned to commemorate the anniversary in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town where he lived, died and was buried.

Francesco Traversi, lawyer for the Forgione family and the head of an association of Padre Pio devotees, said that he and his associates would do everything necessary to prevent the saint's body being ''profaned''. ''(The archbishop) will not succeed in his attempt to re-crucify Padre Pio by putting his remains on display,'' he said, referring to the persecution that the saint's followers say he suffered during his life.

According to the archbishop, permission for the exhumation was given by his ''higher authorities'' and came with the necessary authorisation from the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The saint, whose real name was Francesco Forgione, was born in 1887 and died in 1968. His devotees believe he bore the wounds of the crucified Christ on his hands, feet and side for at least 50 years. By the time of his death, he was credited by his fellow friars with having performed more than a thousand miraculous cures and other miracles - one of them for the future Pope John Paul II.

Other alleged gifts were the ability to be in two places at the same time and emit the scent of fresh flowers. Forgione was shunned by church officialdom for much of his life and only belatedly recognised because of his towering stature among the faithful. He has massive followings across the world, particularly in Australia and Ireland. His shrine near Foggia draws close to one million pilgrims a year and generates millions of euros for the local economy. The hospital he founded in San Giovanni Rotondo is one of the biggest in southern Italy.