Sunday, May 2, 1999 Published at 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Pope beatifies 'miracle' monk
Hundreds of thousands of devotees attended the ceremony in Rome
More than a quarter of a million people attended a ceremony at the Vatican for the beatification of the controversial Capuchin monk, Padre Pio.
His devotees believe the stigmata were a miraculous echo of Christ's wounds at the Crucifiction.
Pilgrims started gathering shortly after dawn in St Peter's Square, where some 150,000 seats for the beatification ceremony were quickly taken. At least 100,000 pilgrims crammed into surrounding streets.
A large screen broadcast proceedings live to tens of thousands in a second square in the city.
Pope John Paul II said the humble monk had amazed the world with his life, and people still flocked to the remote village in southern Italy, where he spent much of his life.
After the mass at the Vatican, the Pope was to fly by helicopter from the Vatican to St John's Lateran Square to greet those pilgrims who could not find room in St Peter's Square.
Past pontiffs have been suspicious of the Padre and his miraculous wounds. The Vatican even bugged the Padre's confessional and opened his mail.
But Padre Pio's popular appeal is extraordinary, more than 30 years after his death, aged 81, in 1968. His grave, in the remote village of San Giovanni Rotondu, gets more visitors than Lourdes - 7 million last year.
BBC Rome correspondent, Orla Guerin, likens his appeal to a worldwide cult.
Many Romans have taken the advice of Mayor Francesco Rutelli and left the city for the weekend.
To his supporters, Padre Pio was a saintly figure, capable of everything from appearing in two places at once, to miracle cures of the sick.
One member of the Irish group, Mona Hanfin, wife of Senator Des Hanfin, says she was cured of cancer by the Padre.
The Padre had open wounds on the palms of his hands and in his side, apparently like Jesus Christ on the Cross.
The wounds did not heal for 50 years, and he is said to have had to change the dressing four or five times a day to stem the flow of blood.
His supporters say he was a living saint, but the beatification of Padre Pio on Sunday means he is well on the way to full sainthood as recognised by the Vatican.