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Sunday, May 2, 1999 Published at 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK


World: Europe

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.


Listen to the Pope's address (in Italian) and excerpts from the ceremony
The Padre is said to have had the power of healing and for 50 years until his death in 1968 he displayed bleeding wounds, or stigmata, on his hands and abdomen.

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.


[ image: The Pope said Padre Pio had amazed the world]
The Pope said Padre Pio had amazed the world
The crowd is one of the largest ever seen at the Vatican.

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.


David Willey: One of the largest crowds in living memory
"When I was a student here in Rome I had the opportunity to meet him myself, and I thank God for allowing me today to enter his name in the book of the blessed," he said.

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.

Suspicion

Past pontiffs have been suspicious of the Padre and his miraculous wounds. The Vatican even bugged the Padre's confessional and opened his mail.


[ image:  ]
He was banned from saying Mass for many years during his life.

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.

International following


Orla Guerin: The Vatican wasn't always so anxious to celebrate Padre Pio
From the Dublin branch of the Padre's devotees, 1,000 attended the beatification ceremony. But they could have fielded "an awful lot more" if they had been allocated places, an organiser said.

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.


[ image: Christ-like wounds stayed open for 50 years]
Christ-like wounds stayed open for 50 years
Just 10 days ago, when a young Sicilian man in a coma appeared to improve, his family gave the credit to Padre Pio. A lock of his hair had been held near the sick man's face.

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.



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