From Padre Pio’s Disneyland to Saint Michael’s Cave: March 17, 2012

By Andrea Palatnik

Image of St Michael inside the shrine built to remember his apparition at San Michelle. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

Image of St Michael inside the shrine built to remember his apparition at San Michelle. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

FOGGIA — On yet another astonishingly beautiful day in Italy (the weather gods must really love us), the Religio team was taken on a tour of the Padre Pio pilgrimage complex, starting at the two main churches of the shrine. Next, we paced through the Padre Pio museum, filled with relics protected by thick Plexiglas and surrounded by a rather impressive number of donation boxes.

Padre Pio sandal keychains for sale at the Padre Pio shrine's gift shop. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

Padre Pio sandal keychains for sale at the Padre Pio shrine's gift shop. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

After the excursion — which ended inside a gift shop where visitors can buy Padre Pio-shaped bottles and John Paul II-decorated pencils among other inspiring items — the group scattered around town to find pilgrims and business-owners that live off the crowd attracted by the Padre Pio “cult.”

While Nathan Vickers and Brandon Gates talked to a smiling nun who decided to relocate to San Giovanni Rotondo after her first pilgrimage there, Aby Thomas interviewed a 20-year-old Italian ragazza who decided to use her spare time to go on a spiritual journey. Michael, Teresa Mahoney, Ines Novacic and Anam Siddiq reported on local shops and hotels built around the faith in Padre Pio, and Sarah Laing and Anne Cohen visited the Padre Pio broadcast station to witness the production of a 24-hour schedule entirely dedicated to the Capuchin friar with a questionable set of stigmatae.

It was more reporters than San Giovanni had seen in a long time. After the reporting blitz, our crew left San Giovanni Rotondo for the medieval streets of San Michele, a charming little town perched 600 feet above sea level on the mountains overlooking the Adriatic Sea. It is a town with astounding views of the sea to the east and idyllic fields of grass peppered by flocks of sheep and blooming cherry trees to the west.

Our first stop was the Sanctuary of Saint Michael Archangel, a stunning church from the Byzantine era erected to celebrate the triple apparition of Saint Michael in the region. Our guide, one of the sanctuary’s monks, explained to us that the shrine is the only Catholic temple in the world that didn’t have its soil consecrated by a bishop before construction: that’s because, according to legend, the Archangel Michael told the bishop that he had consecrated the spot himself. The church was built atop a natural cave where the original shrine was placed after the visions. Its wide entrance merges into the building’s white bricks in an amazing and yet natural-looking way. The famous image of Saint Michael that sits in the main altar, made of Carrara marble and gold, was brought to the cave in 1507, two centuries after the first vision of the archangel by a local shepherd. Professor Stille was told by one of the priests that many exorcisms have been practiced in the cave lately – the demon is apparently trying to reestablish a presence in peaceful San Michele.

Sunset on Monte Sant'Angelo | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

Sunset on Monte Sant'Angelo | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

After the tour, part of the group headed to the castle on top of Monte Sant’Angelo, a ninth century fortress overlooking a valley with a privileged view of the Italian sunset. After delving into the guilty pleasures of purchasing local goods we went back to the hotel, where a special feast would soon take place. This was Professor Stille’s last night in Italy, and he deserved an appropriate farewell party. We occupied the dining room of the hotel in our finest attire to celebrate the success of the trip and roast professors, collaborators and students alike.

After being informed that Adam Goldman (Professor Goldman’s son!), makes a living in Germany as a stand-up comedian, the group asked him for a private pocket show in the hotel lobby, which involved a couple of jokes about Yiddish mamas and a slightly embarrassed girlfriend. The performance was followed by an impromptu talent show with Missouri-related jokes by Nathan and a Religio version of white gangsta rap by “Mother” Teresa rhyming “Stille” and “Otto per Mille.” We also played a round of charades, having Professor Stille show off his rather surprising dancing skills to convey Dances with Wolves.

The night isn’t over yet, and as I write these words the rest of our gang is learning a couple of fetching dance moves (“Teach Me How To Dougie” anyone?) from Ines while drinking some fine Italian prosecco in plastic cups. Our journey is almost over.

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