Local residents want the shrine to remain under the control of local monks
A row has erupted over the control of a shrine devoted to one of Roman Catholicism's most popular and controversial saints, Padre Pio.
The Vatican has angered Capuchin monks in the southern Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo by removing the sanctuary from their control.
The move also sparked protests among local residents who blocked the square in front of the church where the mystic Padre Pio is buried.
We feel like we are returning to the dark time that Padre Pio knew, with a decision that seems to us hostile and punitive
Capuchin monk Paolo Covino
Italian media reports suggested the Vatican was concerned about excessive commercialisation of the saint's image, which generates millions of dollars.
The shrine at San Giovanni Rotondo is a popular pilgrimage site which receives some eight million visitors a year.
At the weekend, Pope John Paul gave the bishop of the nearby city of Manfredonia ultimate authority over the shrine.
The provincial leader of the Capuchin monks said he could not understand the decision.
Padre Pio generates millions of dollars for the town
"We feel like we are returning to the dark time that Padre Pio knew, with a decision that seems to us hostile and punitive," said Reverend Paolo Covino in a letter to Church officials quoted by the Ansa news agency.
A view apparently shared by town residents who parked cranes, earth movers and bulldozers in front of the church in protest.
Others blew whistles and threatened to hold more protests during a planned visit by the new overseer of the site.
Padre Pio died in 1968, at the age of 81, after living for decades with bleeding wounds on his hands and feet like those Christ suffered at the crucifixion.
Doctors never found a medical explanation for his bleeding hands and feet which never healed but never became infected.
The Pope - who is said to be a great admirer of the mystic monk - made him a saint last year.
The approval of Padre Pio's sainthood took place in record time, but during his lifetime many in the Church doubted claims of his miracles and suggested he was a fraud.
He was said to have known what penitents would confess to him and reportedly wrestled with the devil in his cell.
In granting him sainthood, the Church officially recognised two of his miracles - the curing of an 11-year-old boy who was in a coma and the medically inexplicable recovery of a woman with lung disease.