Relic of Catholic saint arrives in Boston

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BOSTON – Thousands are flocking to the Bay State this week to venerate a relic of one the world’s most beloved saints, Padre Pio. Encased in a glass box and accompanied by a security detail of Capuchin monks, is the heart of the Italian priest who experienced “Stigmata,” or the wounds of Christ, for the last 50 years of his life.

For the first time since his canonization in 2002, the heart of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, known as “Padre Pio” has left Italy and journeyed to the United States, the Boston Globe reports.

The relic, and its accompanying cadre of monks, arrived in Lowell on Wednesday at the Immaculate Conception Church, where hundreds had gathered to pray for the saint’s intercession and to kiss the box holding his intact heart.

The Rev. Nicholas Sannella said, “being near the relic is a way to be closer to a saint who is already with God.” Known for his capacity to forgive and his love of the poor, Padre Pio “embraced the very core of our faith,” said Sannella.

Leslie Allain, who journeyed to Lowell from Farmington, NH, called the experience “overwhelming.” Over two decades ago, when her newborn son was desperately ill, she prayed unceasingly for Padre Pio’s intercession in his recovery. Her son, Hunter, unexpectedly regained his health.

One of Catholicism’s most revered saints, Padre Pio entered the Capuchin Friary in his Italian hometown as a teenager in 1902, later becoming a priest in the order.

In 1918, as a young priest, he found himself afflicted with wounds on his hands feet and side, similar to those inflicted upon Jesus during the Crucifixion. He bore these wounds until his death in 1968.

Throughout his life, and in the years since his death, Padre Pio attracted a faithful and ever-growing following. Many made the pilgrimage to his friary to kiss his pierced hands and to assist when he offered mass. Despite concern over the dangers of creating a “cult following,” the Vatican pursued his case for sainthood, and Pope John Paul II canonized him in 2002. The saint’s body was exhumed in 2008, and his remains, including his heart, were found nearly untouched by decomposition.

After departing Lowell on Wednesday night, the relic traveled to St. Leonard Church in Boston’s North End, where it was greeted by thousands of exuberant faithful. Home to a robust immigrant population, an annual festival is held in the neighborhood every June in honor of the Italian saint. From St. Leonard’s, the relic will go to Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross where it will remain through Friday, with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston celebrating mass at 7 p.m.