Faithful venerate relics of St. Pio Nov. 13 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. The display, visited by nearly 1,000 pilgrims from throughout the Diocese and beyond, was sponsored by the St. Pio Foundation. Victor Mistretta photos

Faithful venerate relics of St. Pio Nov. 13 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. The display, visited by nearly 1,000 pilgrims from throughout the Diocese and beyond, was sponsored by the St. Pio Foundation. Victor Mistretta photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent 

The relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina drew a steady progress of more than 1,000 pilgrims from across the Diocese and beyond to Freehold’s Co-Cathedral Nov. 13, all seeking a chance to see and venerate artifacts of one of the Church’s most beloved saints.

Faithful of all ages quietly drew near to St. Pio’s mortal remains and items used or touched by the 20th century Italian priest, known throughout his life as a mystic with miraculous powers of healing and knowledge, and as one who bore the Stigmata – the wounds Christ suffered during his Crucifixion.

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They included a number who traveled to St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral because they believe, as surely as they still live, that their prayers for healing were answered by St. Pio.

“It is so moving to be here,” said parishioner Frank Illiano, who reached out in prayer to St. Pio two-and-a-half years ago when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. He prayed constantly to the saint during treatment and is now cancer free.

After venerating the relics – including a glove, cotton gauze with St. Pio’s blood, a lock of his hair and his mantle – llliano sat quietly in the back of the church, awaiting the Mass to be celebrated by diocesan vicar general, Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, which would bring the solemn occasion to a close.

The relics’ visit was sponsored by the St. Pio Foundation, a national charitable organization that promotes awareness of St. Pio. The 2018 tour was part of an ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death and included stops throughout the United States and for the first time, Mexico and Canada.

Encased in glass and set in simple wooden reliquaries, the relics were displayed on a table. Faithful were encouraged to touch their own religious items such as Rosaries, medals and holy cards to the reliquaries. Doing so, according to belief, transforms those items into relics themselves.

“Just to learn more about him and feel his presence brought us closer to him,” parishioner Luis Suarez said.

In his homily, Msgr. Gervasio spoke warmly of his own connection to the saint, which began as a fifth-grade student when he read St. Pio’s biography. “In those pages, I met a Franciscan priest of many extraordinary gifts.”

He discussed how St. Pio is perhaps best known for the Stigmata he received – “that he bore in his body the wounds of Christ crucified for 50 years. It made him not only a priest but also a victim – so he could repeat with St. Paul: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’” (Gal.2.20)

Msgr. Gervasio urged those present to consider the “two pillars of Padre Pio’s priestly ministry” – the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession. Through the Eucharist, he said, “Padre Pio reminds us that every Mass is the projection through time and space of the redemptive love of Christ Crucified.”

Because of the Mass, “We have the fullest and most perfect way to offer to the Lord our praise, our thanks, our questions, doubts and struggles. … Padre Pio would have us rekindle our sense of Eucharistic amazement.”

Of the second pillar, Msgr. Gervasio addressed the fact that his time spent in the confessional “absorbed most of his time,” there the Capuchin friar spent 12 to 15 hours a day, he noted.

“Many who confessed to St. Pio were taken aback by his gift of reading souls and the power of his spiritual counsel,” Msgr. Gervasio said.

While some described him as a “gruff and irritable man,” Msgr. Gervasio said the fact was that “he was direct in his approach in order to snap people into an awareness of their sins so they might return to God, experience his mercy and rediscover the joy of living in communion with Jesus.”