The volunteers, the shrine and quite possibly the saint were ready when more than 200 pilgrims from Maryland poured out of four busses onto the grounds of the Padre Pio Shrine on Rt. 40 in Landisville on Saturday, March 24.
The primarily Filipino pilgrims were starting their 11th Lenten journey (their annual Visita Iglesia), visiting a handful of religious sites, primarily churches, in the Diocese of Camden as a way to mark the seven last words of Jesus.
Marie Dandrea of Landisville and her late husband, Peter, founded the shrine in 2002 after being inspired by Padre Pio’s life during a trip to Italy for their business, Dandrea Produce in Vineland. While they had made the trek to explore purchasing chestnuts for their operation, they found something greater when they visited places important to the saint, and they were inspired to create the shrine.
“Everywhere (our driver) took us was Padre Pio,” said Dandrea, a mother of three and grandmother of seven. When they saw the saint’s body, she recalled, “We knelt down … and we prayed. I said to my husband, ‘Can I build a shrine?’ And he said yes.’”
During the week, and especially the weekends, people come from throughout South Jersey and well beyond to visit the shrine, which rises on 10 acres that used to include squash fields owned by the Dandrea family.
The Maryland guests represented one of the biggest crowds to visit the site, where the shrine soars four stories and includes a bronze statue of Padre Pio, stone statues of the Scared Heart and Blessed Mother, a small altar and other religious items. More than three dozen benches front the shrine, for which many people and businesses donated time, professional services and materials. Gardens brighten the side yards. A large Tupperware-type of tub holds petitions, as does a notebook weighted with bricks.
Dandrea and volunteers welcomed the pilgrims with words, music and tables of desserts. Additionally, the pilgrims had an opportunity to touch a first-class relic of the Italian saint’s, a glove carefully enclosed in glass. The travelers, who hailed from St. Columba’s Parish in Oxon Hill and St. Mary’s Parish in Rockville, prayed, added petitions, snacked and snapped photographs during the short visit. Sister Helen Sumander and Sister Emily Baustista of the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese, Oxon Hill, coordinated the pilgrimage.
Josie Mararac of Waldorf, Md., and St. Columba’s Parish was one of the pilgrims. A two-time cancer survivor with other health issues, she was straightforward in her reaction to the visit. “He helped me a lot,” she said of the intercessions of St. Padre Pio.
(For more information on the shrine, visit www.padrepioshrine.org.)