NAPLES, Italy -- The venerated 'blood ofSan Gennaro' liquefied after only 8 minutes of prayer Tuesday, meaning to devout Neapolitans that a period of peace and prosperity lay ahead.
More than 5,000 Neapolitans and tourists cheered and let off fireworks when Cardinal Michele Giordano, archbishop of Naples, announced that the dark brown crystals contained in two glass vials had liquefied.
The archbishop added to the jubilation by announcing that Pope John Paul II plans to visit Naples on Nov. 9-13 next year.
The reputed 'miracle' took place only 8 minutes after the cardinal started his prayers in the Santa Chiara cathedral to San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples and its surrounding Campania region, Giordano said.
This year, the ceremony coincided with the 600th anniversary of the first Church record of the Gennaro miracle in 1389 and Church officials said they could not recall a faster liquefaction.
At various times scientists have investigated the liquefaction 'miracle,' but never have come up with a logical explanation.
When the saint's blood liquefies quickly, Neapolitans believe it means a period of peace and prosperity ahead. If it fails to liquefy, or does so after long hours or days of prayer, they believe it is a signal of impending disaster.
According to church legend, Gennaro was an early Christian bishop who was beheaded by the Romans in the Naples suburb of Pozzuoli in the year 305 A.D. A 'devout woman' collected some of his blood, which is reputed to be that kept in the two vials.
The vials containing the crystallized blood are kept locked away in the cathedral except for the three times a year the ceremonies take place. These occasions are on Sept. 19, which is San Gennaro's Feast day, Dec. 16, the anniversary of a disastrous eruption of the nearby Vesuvius volcano in 1631,and the Saturday preceding the first Sunday in May.
The joy over Tuesday's fast liquefaction was all the greater in reaction to a particularly somber sermon by Giordano before the prayers started.
The archbishop said Naples is 'caught in the grip of social sin, which weighs on the city.'
'There is unemployment, the housing system does not work and there is illicit trafficking in drugs which kill,' Giordano said. 'San Gennaro shed his blood, however, for mankind and the friends of God. This kind of sin will be defeated.'