Relics of Padre Pio, including his glove and robe, a lock of his hair, a sweat-soaked handkerchief from his deathbed, some blood-stained cotton gauze, and scabs from his stigmata will be visiting several churches in North America for veneration by the faithful.
Yeah, it’s weird! Our faith is weird.
In 2016, the beloved saint’s heart came to Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell, MA, and my husband Damien, who is a newspaper reporter, went to see and venerate it. I asked him a few questions about his experience (originally published in 2016).
What made you want to go and see Padre Pio’s heart?
I really didn’t know that much about Padre Pio, other than the stigmata and “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.” I found out about his heart coming to the area just a couple of days before. The relic’s first stop was in Lowell, Massachusetts, which is a 10-minute drive from the paper’s offices. I figured I could get something pretty interesting out of a saint’s heart, and I would get a chance to go see a relic as part of my job. Maybe not entirely noble, but I’m busy.
I like relics, and I like that Catholics have this weird and intense spirituality that includes things like hearts, and fingers, and bits of the True Cross, and incorruptible saints. It’s hard to describe to outsiders, and it is as strange as anything, but it somehow feels right.
What was the scene like in the church? What was the mood like among the people there?
The line to get in went outside the church. I was later told more than 3,000 people went to this church to see Padre Pio’s heart. There were a lot of people from different religious orders, and a few oddballs, but I was kind of taken aback by how many normal looking people were there. Lots of senior citizens and moms with kids, lots of guys in suits, stopping by on their lunch break. It was a big mix of people. The folks in line with me were really excited to be there.
Inside the church, the priests were leading a rosary in French, and Spanish, and English. Lowell is a big, old New England mill town, with a ton of French Canadian immigrants from decades ago, and a new influx of Latino immigrants. It’s a very Catholic city. But it wasn’t just Lowell people there. There were people from all over New England making the pilgrimage.
What did the actual relic look like? How were people venerating it?
A stern-looking Capuchin held the reliquary that contained the heart, and people would get a chance to touch it. One by one, they would genuflect and either touch the reliquary, or kiss it. Some people brought prayer cards to touch to the reliquary.
It’s hard to describe, because it was hard to look at. It was red, and in two connected parts. There seemed to be some white bone underneath it. I say it is hard to look at, because I was overcome with a sense of too-muchness. It was too much to see. Not in a gross way, but in a personal way; here was Padre Pio, showing something deeply personal about himself to me.
It wasn’t until I got outside that I realized I was overcome with emotion. I was happy to nearly the point of tears. I felt like something heavy and difficult had been taken away, but I don’t even know what.
Do you feel any differently about Padre Pio now than you did before?
I’ve been reading about him since yesterday, and I am trying to take the experience I had by touching the reliquary that held his heart, and bring it to what I can learn about him.
Photos by Damien Fisher, used with permission