Padre Pio is declared Venerable by Vatican


The celebrated Capuchin monk Padre Pio, famous throughout the Catholic world for the Christ-like stigmata which manifested themselves on five parts of his body, was yesterday declared Venerable by the Vatican, in what will almost certainly be the first step down the road to sainthood.

In San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia, southern Italy, home to the Capuchin monastery where Padre Pio spent most of his life, church bells rang out yesterday afternoon and schools closed early as the town expressed its satisfaction at yesterday's Vatican announcement that Pope John Paul II had recognised the "heroic virtues" of Padre Pio, making him Venerable, a title used by the church for candidates for beatification.

Born to a poor peasant family in Pietrelcina, near Benevento, southern Italy in 1887, Padre Pio's family name was Francesco Forgione. A military chaplain during the first World War, he first experienced the stigmata in 1918 at the age of 31.

The bleeding wounds on his hands, feet and side - similar to those suffered by Christ on the Cross - proved to be the source of controversy from that day to his death.

Doctors were unable to explain why his wounds oozed blood without his flesh experiencing any apparent laceration, nor could they explain why the wounds closed to leave no trace or scar within hours of his death in September 1968.

While the medical and secular world expressed their scepticism, Catholics worldwide had no such doubts.

More than 1 million Catholics annually go on pilgrimage to his tomb in San Giovanni Rotondo, while by time of his death, he had become a virtual living saint to whom Catholics directed their prayers, often asking for intercession with God to obtain miracles. One such intercession was sought and allegedly obtained by Pope John Paul II in 1963, during the second Vatican Council, when he called on Padre Pio to pray for a Polish psychiatrist friend, Ms Wanda Poltawska, allegedly suffering from terminal cancer. Some time after Padre Pio's intervention, Ms Poltawska recovered.