Millions of Filipinos went out of their way to take part in the veneration of the heart relic of Padre Pio, an Italian saint, according to a priest who was involved in the event.
In a report published by CBCPNews, the official online news service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, “an estimated five million people flocked to venerate the incorrupt heart relic of Saint Padre Pio as its three-week visit to the Philippines came to an end” on Oct. 26.
Roy Lagarde, who is the managing editor of CBCPNews, wrote the turnout was “thought to be the largest relic visit in the Church’s history.”
Father Jojo Gonda, rector of the National Shrine of Saint Padre Pio in Santo Tomas, Batangas, gave an estimate of the number of people who went to venerate the saint’s relic.
“My gut feeling for the whole visit around the country is four to five million because I was there all the time,” Lagarde quoted Gonda as saying.
The Philippines is the fourth country visited by the relic after the United States, Paraguay and Argentina.
Lagarde’s report added that it was brought to the country by the Capuchin friars who run the Shrine of Padre Pio in the saint’s hometown of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy.
But the visit to Asia’s largest Catholic nation holds the distinction of having the longest time the relic stayed in a country and with an unprecedented crowd, Lagarde wrote.
Italian Fr. Carlo Laborde, Superior of the Franciscan Capuchin Community of San Giovanni Rotondo, said that being in the Philippines was an experience of “extraordinary faith”.
“The heart of Padre Pio has visited various countries in the world attracting numerous crowd… but (the visit) in the Philippines has been unprecedented,” Laborde said. “Our heart has been moved to see huge crowds everywhere.”
From Oct. 6 to 26, the saint’s relic moved around the country, stopping in Santo Tomas, and the cities of Manila, Cebu, Davao and Lipa.
Though it rained in some days, the weather did not dampen the spirits of the faithful, motivated to see the relic that they believe is an answer to their prayers.
Lagarde described the patience of those who went to see Padre’ Pio’s relic.
“The crowd lined the streets patiently and calmly, with many queued for three to five hours just to venerate the relic,” Lagarde wrote in his article.
Gondo made his own assessment of the crowd.
“It seems they found something unique and different with the heart relic because this is the only heart relic that visited us,” Gondo said. “At this time when people are suffering from inflation, poverty, extrajudicial killings they want a meaningful symbol or will give meaning to what is happening to them.”
The relic left the national shrine after a farewell Mass presided over by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato.
The Cardinal said in his homily that Christians were not called simply to admire great saints like Padre Pio, but rather to imitate their virtues of humility and charity.
The Cardinal added that the devotion to the Capuchin friar must be expressed not just by words but also by deeds.
“The call to holiness then is the call of our times,” Quevedo said. “But we can’t be holy by simply desiring it. We have to collaborate with God’s grace and strive daily to be holy and charitable.”
“Prayer is the key to God’s heart as Padre Pio reminds us,” Quevedo added. “We cannot be holy, we cannot be united to the suffering heart of Jesus unless we pray.”
After the Mass, the relic was immediately brought to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where it was displayed for public veneration for the NAIA’s employees and other government officials.
The relic departed for Italy at 6:00 p.m.
The display of the saint’s heart relic in North America was part of an ongoing special tour in 2018 organized by the Saint Pio Foundation
According to the Saint Pio Foundation, the US tour was specifically organized to commemorate “the 50th anniversary of Saint Padre Pio’s passing.” During the tour, the Foundation said “the relics will be made available for public veneration.”
The Saint Pio Foundation explained that the putting the relics was appropriate because most of the Catholic faithful will “never be able to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo or Pietrelcina to visit the places where the Saint was born, lived and died.”
“For that reason, we sponsor a tour of the relics each year to give hundreds of thousands of the faithful an opportunity to have a ‘spiritual encounter’ with Padre Pio, to pray to him, and to ask for his intercession,” the Saint Pio Foundation said.G (with CBCPNews report)