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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 16:37 GMT
Padre Pio TV goes on air
More than 250,000 attended the Padre's  beatification in 1999
More than 250,000 attended the Padre's beatification in 1999
A new TV station has been launched in Italy, dedicated to the life of the controversial monk Padre Pio.

Capuchin Franciscan Friars have started the service in a bid to get the padre known throughout the world.

The friar, who died in 1968, is due to be made a saint later this year after being credited with performing miracles.

The padre was said to bear the marks - or stigmata - similar to the wounds Christians believe Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified.

Padre Pio celebrating mass
Padre Pio has millions of followers
The new TV service will initially broadcast around the San Giovanni Rotondo area of Southern Italy, where the Padre is buried, but it will also be broadcast around the world on the internet.

It will feature images of people praying and transmit interviews with people who knew him.

The town has become a mecca for his followers, with more than seven million people making a pilgrimage to his grave every year.

His cult has spawned a huge business in souvenirs, statues and icons worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

He was born into a peasant family in southern Italy in 1887. He became a Franciscan monk before developing the stigmata wounds at the age of 31.

The wounds did not heal for the rest of his life, and he had to change the dressing four or five times a day to stem the flow of blood.

Believer

Despite this the Padre was said to have miraculous healing powers.

For many years the Vatican was suspicious of the Padre's claims, even bugging his confessional and opening his mail.

He was even banned from saying Mass for many years during his life.

However after his death, the Padre's cult grew.

The current Pope is a believer, having met the Padre at his monastery in 1947 when he was a priest living in Poland.

In 1999, crowds of more than 250,000 attended a ceremony for his beatification, the final step before becoming a saint.

At the time Pope John Paul II told the audience: "When I was a student here in Rome I had the opportunity to meet him myself, and I thank God for allowing me to enter his name in the book of the blessed."

See also:

02 May 99 | Europe
Pope beatifies 'miracle' monk
02 May 99 | Europe
Wounds, odours and miracles
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Vatican
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