Plans to exhume saint cause stir in Italy

Plans to exhume a much-loved saint on the 40th anniversary of his death are stirring up protest among some Catholics in Italy.

Padre Pio is said to have suffered from the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet and side known as stigmata, and still enjoys exceptionally high status in comparison to other Catholics icons in Italy since his death in 1968.

Archbishop Domenico D'Ambrosio faced a backlash at the weekend after announcing his plans to lift the saint from his crypt in southern Italy so that it can be viewed by the public from April.

"It is our duty to allow the generations that come after us the ability to venerate and best care for his mortal remains," D'Ambrosio said in a sermon.

Padre Pio's admirers, however, are threatening to go to court unless the Archbishop turns back on his intentions.

Francesco Traversi, who heads the Association Pro-Padre Pio, said, "They can't do it (without the relatives' permission) because otherwise they'll be committing a crime."

Traversi claims to have the support of Padre Pio's niece and her daughters, although an Italian news agency quoted one relative as disputing that.

He said his association would present a legal motion in the southern city of Foggia to block the monk's exhumation.

Padre Pio, who was born Francesco Forgione, remains a hugely popular saint among Catholics in Italy. According to one Catholic magazine, more Italian Catholics pray to him than even the Virgin Mary or Jesus.

In 1918, Padre Pio wrote to his spiritual advisor telling of a vision he had seen of the Lord with his bleeding wounds and how he had emerged from a deep vision to find that he now also had the same wounds in his hand, feet and sides as Christ. The wounds are said to have disappeared seven days before his death.

Padre Pio was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002, on the basis that a woman had been miraculously healed from sickness as a result of his intervention.

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