The Padre Pio Pilgrimage Experience

By Neha Prakash 

The statue of Padre Pio stands at the back of the Saint Pio of Pietrelcina Chapel in San Giovanni Rotondo welcoming pilgrims to the holy shrine. | Photo by Bogdan Mohora

In a town at the top of a hill rests a healer.

San Giovanni Rotondo — a place isolated in its location on a steep mountain — is the burial place of the patron saint for all who suffer: Padre Pio. The man known for his miraculous healing acts, blessed stigmata and mostly his unyielding devotion to Christ, is enshrined in both a golden tomb and this town, where pilgrims worldwide travel to seek his blessings and heavenly intercession.

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, born in 1887 as Francesco Forgione, who later joined the Capuchins, was canonized only in 2002, but has been noted as one of the world’s most famed saints — with more than 3,000 Padre Pio prayer groups worldwide.

His acclamation begins and ends with his miracles. Saint Pio has been honored for acts such as restoring sight to the blind and giving full health back to cancer patients. In San Giovanni, a poster of the saint’s face hangs rightly so in front of the hospital.

Pilgrims touch Padre Pio's crypt seeking his prayers and healing intervention. | Photo by Bogdan Mohora

But the stigmata that graced his hands and feet remain to this day one of the most contested but worshipped aspects of the man. Pio was reported to receive the stigmata at the age of 31, which remained with him till his death more than 50 years later. Pio often wore gloves to cover the bleeding wounds. It is said he felt ashamed and terrified of the visible scars — even though he was humbled to accept the pain and suffering of the sinners as Christ did.

Many historians accused Pio of self-inflicting the scars with carbolic acid, but, upon his canonization, the Catholic Church discredited these claims.

Regardless of the queries, pilgrims have flocked to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina chapel in San Giovanni to touch the relics and say and prayer of intercession.

A bronzed, haloed statue of Pio stands in the back of the church, arms outstretched, stigmata visible, accepting a hug or a touch. As worshippers travel in and out of the chapel they touch his feet, hold his hands and light a candle.

Though Pio’s body was only exhumed and put on display in 2008, Robert Hacker in the English pilgrimage office at San Giovanni Rotondo estimates six million pilgrims visit the shrine yearly.

Religio reporters spoke with both pilgrims about their devotion and belief in the saint as well as to business owners in the area about how they capitalize on the tourism of the popular city.

Read their stories here