Thousands venerate first- and second-class relics of famed Capuchin friar who spoke to Christ during three-stop tour in Detroit area
DEARBORN — Mario Gonzalez had a very specific prayer intention as he venerated the relics of St. Padre Pio at St. Barbara Parish in Dearborn on Nov. 18.
He was holding his son, Damien, who was six weeks removed from open-heart surgery.
So when Fr. Zbigniew Grankowski of St. Barbara Parish processed through the church with the relic, Gonzalez held his son up close to the relic, praying for healing, as countless pilgrims have done when near the bones of the famed 20th century Italian priest.
“Six weeks ago he had the surgery,” Gonzalez told Detroit Catholic. “He was in ICU for two weeks, and then two more weeks in the hospital, so a total of a month. He just came home three weeks ago and is doing well, thanks be to God. We pray to Padre Pio, St. Charbel (a Lebanese saint popular at the Dearborn parish) and we believe we have a miracle right here.”
Thousands of pilgrims just like Gonzalez took the opportunity to venerate the relics of St. Padre Pio as part of a tour organized by the Saint Pio Foundation, a New York-based apostolate dedicated to spreading devotion to St. Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968), an Italian Capuchin friar and priest who is known for healing and for bearing the stigmata, or the wounds of Christ, on his hands.
“It was amazing to venerate the relics,” Gonzalez said. “My wife, Mary Lou Lopez, was crying seeing Damien touching the relic. We are super happy we came here; I can’t describe what we are feeling.”
The Friday night stop at St. Barbara was followed by a trip to St. Joseph Parish in Erie on Saturday and St. Pio of Pietrelcina Parish in Roseville on Sunday, allowing faithful from across the archdiocese to see the relics close to home.
“If I asked you to raise your hands, surely it’d be no more than 20 people here who could say they have been to Pietrelcina (St. Pio's hometown in Italy). That is why St. Padre Pio comes to you,” said Luciano Lamonarca, founder and CEO of the Saint Pio Foundation, who gave a presentation on the foundation’s mission during Mass. “We estimate over 1 million have visited the relics, and we estimate 95 percent never have or will have a chance to go to Pietrelcina and be as close to Padre Pio as you are here tonight. That was our mission since 2014, to bring Padre Pio to the people.”
Lamonarca, a former Italian opera tenor who dazzled the congregation with a rendition of “Ave Maria,” said that beyond venerating St. Pio’s relics, the faithful should reflect on his message, specifically his famed advice, “Pray, hope, don’t worry.”
“Surely you have heard these words,” Lamonarca said. “But have you ever considered the order of those words? He said it in a specific order: 'Pray, hope, don’t worry,' because it’s in God’s hands. That is what we understand. It is very important that in three words he might mean to express everything.”
Tim Kilroy was one such man who took the opportunity to venerate the relics of St. Pio. Kilroy remembers growing up and sitting at the family dinner table, where his father would speak about Pio of Pietrelcina, a modern-day saint who was known to bilocate, to be in more than one place at time.
“St. Padre Pio is a saint for our times,” Kilroy said. “He was around in the 1960s, had the stigmata, and he was seen hearing confessions on the battlefield in World War I while at the same time saying Mass in Italy, so he was bilocating. If you went to confession and left something out, he would call you out on it. He could see your soul and tell you, 'What about this over here? You need to confess that, too.'”
Kilroy said he had a private prayer intention when he was kneeling before the relics, but took the opportunity to contemplate how close he was to the saint, who in turn was close to Christ.
“I was thinking of how he was gifted with the stigmata and how much pain he must have been in,” Kilroy said. “But he was in a conversation with Christ. So when people say they don’t know Christ, or Christ hasn’t been here — well, St. Padre Pio was on this earth, and he talked to Christ; he was one of the few saints to have done that.”
After Mass, people lined the main aisle of St. Barbara Parish to venerate the relics one more time, each writing down prayer intentions on cards provided by the Saint Pio Foundation, which will be added to their national list of prayer intentions.
Joyce Pappas came to St. Barbara with her husband to see the relics and think about all the healing that has taken place because of them.
“I haven’t had a devotion to Padre Pio for a long time; I recently found out about him,” Pappas said. “But it’s a wonderful thing he did for his whole life. Tonight I was praying for peace in this world, the conversion of sinners, that God will lead the leaders of the United States of America and the world, to bring peace in this world and take away the evil. Tonight just gave me a great sense of peace and hope.”
The faithful began filing into St. Barbara at 2:30 p.m., with many staying through the 6 p.m. Mass. Parishioner Benjamin Queen volunteered to be a guide during the relic’s stay, explaining to pilgrims how to properly venerate the relic and answering basic questions about the life of St. Padre Pio.
Queen admitted he had to brush up on his St. Padre Pio history before the event.
“I’m amazed by his unceasing passion and admiration for the sacrament of confession,” Queen said. “That is an area we can focus on to bring us closer not only to Padre Pio, but the Catholic Church and the entire community.”
Beyond having the opportunity to venerate the relics up close and assist others in venerating the saint, Queen said the biggest takeaway was seeing the devotion and healing presence St. Pio has on people’s lives.
“I saw people come with their guard down, being vulnerable, crying, weeping, falling to their knees because of the sheer power and influence Padre Pio has,” Queen said. “I think that is what I will take the most away from tonight. We are all saints, some are ‘big S’ — like Padre Pio — but the rest of us are ‘little S’ saints. Each and every person who is a disciple of Jesus is called to be a saint in his Church, and people like Padre Pio, who lived a saintly life, help us strive toward that sainthood.”
Liturgy and devotions