VINELAND — M.J. Ricci is one of many people who believes she has personally seen the healing power of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, and came here with a story to tell of the saint’s miraculous intercession.
Ricci, of Wildwood, her sister Mary, friends — and thousands of others — came to the saint’s namesake parish and Our Lady of Pompeii Church last weekend to pray, to tell stories about the saint, and to venerate the heart of a merciful Capuchin friar who loved the Lord.
The first-class relic arrived on Saturday night, accompanied by the Capuchin friars from Italy’s San Giovanni Rotondo, Saint Pio’s hometown. Its visit followed several stops in the Archdiocese of Boston, and, after its departure from Vineland on Sunday night, was headed to a monastery in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The opportunities for the faithful to venerate the heart in the United States marked the first time a major relic of Saint Pio’s has traveled outside Italy.
Padre Pio died in 1968 at the age of 81 and was canonized in 2002. The Capuchin friar was popular as a miracle worker and known particularly for the long hours he would spend hearing confessions.
The relic’s visit to Vineland came days after his feast day on Sept. 23.
“I was moved” after spending time in front of the relic, said Sister Jane Ndungu, from the Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Mary, Kenya. She and her order staff the Bishop McCarthy Residence in Vineland. “He had such a devotion to the Blessed Mother.”
An 11 a.m. Sunday morning Mass was preceded by a procession with the first-class relic from the parish grotto into the church.
“Padre Pio’s heart was so full of love for Christ and for his church, for the Eucharist and for our Blessed Mother, for the sick and for the poor that it is only right that it is his heart that still remains,” said Father Robert Sinatra, pastor of Saint Padre Pio Parish, in his homily to those packed in the church and the overflow watching from outside the church on a Jumbotron.
Saint’s relic draws thousands to Vineland
Recalling the saint’s words— “the heart of my Jesus and my own … were no longer two hearts beating but one” — Father Sinatra added that this fusion is what Saint Pio “longed for every day of his life, to have his heart united with Christ’s, and swallowed up in immenseness of God’s love. And what we are reminded of today, is that it is the longing of our hearts as well.”
After Communion, Bishop Dennis Sullivan addressed the thousands gathered, and recalled the saint who bore the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, for over 50 years, was known for his long hours of hearing confessions.
“God gives us channels of mercy, and this saint is certainly one of them,” he said.
Father Sinatra said an estimated 8,000 people came to his parish last weekend to venerate the heart of Saint Pio and enjoy the 14th annual Saint Padre Pio Festival, which included food, drink, a rock-climbing wall and caricature paintings. The nearby Saint Mary School even got into the spirit, creating portraits of Saint Pio that were then voted on by festival participants. The “spiritual and cultural experience demonstrated the people’s devotion and fervor for Padre Pio, and for Christ,” he said.