Body of Italian saint on display

April 26, 2008 at 6:07 PM
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SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, April 26 (UPI) -- The body of a popular, if controversial, Italian saint has been put on display in the town where he lived and died.

Tourist officials hope the shrine to Padre Pio, now St. Pio of Pietrelcina, will draw more visitors to the area, The New York Times reported Saturday. About 750,000 people have made reservations to view Padre Pio December.

"This is an opportunity we have to turn religious tourism into mass tourism," said Massimiliano Ostillio, tourism director for the Puglia region.

Padre Pio, who died in 1968, bore the stigmata, wounds in his hands and side like those of the crucified Jesus Christ. Many in the Vatican believed him to be a fraud, including Pope John XXIII, but Pope John Paul II, who met him in the 1940s, canonized him in 2002.

All visitors can see are Padre Pio's fingers. The palms are covered by half-gloves as they usually were when he was live and the face is a lifelike wax mask.

Rosa Mitchitelli, who attended masses celebrated by Padre Pio, said the sight of his remains left her "breathless."

"It was just like when he was alive," she said.

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