A Bucks County parish recently honored a beloved Italian saint with a lavish two-day festival that brought “many, many blessings” to hundreds of attendees.
St. Bede the Venerable Parish in Holland and the Knights of Columbus Council 15478 hosted the sixth annual Padre Pio Festival on September 18-19, drawing worshipers from across the Archdiocese as well as participants from New York, New Jersey and of Delaware.
“We had a whole bunch of people from Staten Island,” said Bishop. John Marine, parish priest of Saint-Bède and creator of the festival. “We ran out of holy cards at one point. “
The weekend gathering – which celebrated devotion to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, a 20th-century Capuchin priest from southwest Italy known for his holiness and miraculous intercession – featured an array of activities for the soul and the body. Masses, confessions, Eucharistic adoration, healing service, spiritual talks and relic veneration were complemented by shows, games, raffles, children’s activities, vendors and many Italian desserts.
Born Francesco Forgione in 1887, the future Padre (“Father”) Pio entered the Capuchin order at the age of 15 and was ordained a priest in 1910. Eight years later he received the Stigmata, the first priest to do so in the history of the Catholic Church. Church. In the midst of a life of physical and spiritual suffering – compounded by austerity and long hours of prayer – he established the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, today a renowned national research hospital located in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo , in southern Italy. Padre Pio died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002 by Pope (and now Saint) John Paul II.
After Sunday mass, a large statue of Saint-Pio was treated for about a mile through the residential area surrounding Saint-Bède. Seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood led the participants in a recitation of the Rosary, while the Verdi Band of Norristown, an Italian-American horn and drummer ensemble, provided accompaniment.
The statue itself was a testament to the saint’s Italian heritage, said liturgical artist and parishioner of St. Bede Ed Rogowski, who painted and altered the image made in Florence. To emphasize the saint’s notorious skills as a confessor, Rogowski added a clay stole to the statue, fashioning his sons with a kitchen gadget for cutting pasta dough.
“It was just great, because it was almost like Padre Pio was telling me what to do,” he said.
Rogowski also credits the saint with “pulling him through” when he nearly died from complications from a double knee replacement.
“I had 86% blood clots in my lungs,” he said. “My wife took care of me, but Padre Pio took care of me too.”
During the procession, Transitional Deacon Ryan Nguyen carried a reliquary with a set of gloves that Padre Pio wore to cover the wounds on his hands with his stigmata. A number of area residents worshiped the relics on the sidelines, with some visibly moved by the encounter.
The experience was a confirmation of the vocation of the future priest, said Mgr. Marine.
“Deacon told me later, ‘You know, seeing what a simple touch of blessing has done for the needs of the people, I look forward to being a priest,'” said the parish priest, who personally invited the youth and young adults of the parish to serve as bearers of statues for the occasion.
Sunday’s programming also included a Holy Hour for Youth led by Father Keith Chylinksi, Director of Counseling Services and Pastoral Psychology Instructor at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
The youngest participants enjoyed their own “Padre Pio Children’s Pavilion”, in which the director of religious education of St. Bede, Shawn Tobin and his wife Kathleen, presented a short film on the saint, as well as craft projects emphasizing Padre Pio’s vibrant relationship with guardian angels.
The multi-faceted festival was a fitting tribute to a saint whose message is more relevant than ever, said Father Pio Mandato, the principal celebrant and homilizer of the Sunday liturgy.
A Franciscan priest now living as a missionary hermit in the diocese of Scranton, Father Mandato himself was born in Pietrelcina, and his parents and grandparents were close to Padre Pio, from whom he was appointed – and from whom he received his first holy communion, just before his family emigrated to the United States. Ordained in 1985, Father Mandato celebrated his first mass in Pietrelcina on the same altar where his famous family friend had celebrated his first mass in 1910.
The deep union of Padre Pio with the passion of Christ allowed the saint to undergo “the transformation that can occur in suffering, if we leave the eyes of the Lord in our souls,” said Father Mandato. “Let Jesus watch you… that will change everything. “
Such a revival is the only viable option in the face of what are ultimately life’s only choices, “chaos or Christ,” said Father Mandato, citing 20th century British novelist Evelyn Waugh, who shocked literary circles by converting to Catholicism in 1930.
While “secular, political and anthropological chaos” is “endemic” in “a completely de-Christianized culture,” said Father Mandato, “the gaze of Jesus will set you free”.
St. Bede parishioner Theresa Agin, who ran one of the tables for religious items, said Padre Pio was a saint “at heart, a human person”.
“There is something in him; I pray to him and I can feel his presence, ”she said. “I pray for others, and they feel something but cannot explain it. I say, ‘Ah, it’s just Padre Pio. You will feel better.’
Agin credited Mgr. Marine – who heard of Padre Pio as a child at Holy Savior Parish in Norristown – for enriching the parish with her deep devotion to the saint.
Padre Pio “didn’t just talk; he has walked in so many different ways, ”said Mgr. Marine, adding that the saint would have been delighted to see how many festival-goers visited the confessional over the weekend.
For Joseph Sellecchia, who won a garden statue of Padre Pio at the festival, the saint is like a member of the family – and a source of consolation and hope.
“My father passed away in October and he was here two years ago since Padre Pio was his favorite saint,” said Sellecchia, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Buckingham. “My aunt’s best friend’s family knew Padre Pio personally, and when my father started to fail, she blessed him with a tissue with Padre Pio’s blood on it.”
Holding the statue close to him as he left the festival grounds, Sellecchia said winning the image “meant the world” to him.
“I started to cry when I found out,” he said. “I spent $ 30 on chances. It is worth it for me.
Padre Pio’s call lies in his “great compassionate heart which extended its hand to people”, Mgr. said Marine.
Before his death, the saint said he planned to ask the Lord to allow him to stand at the gate of heaven – “with an outstretched hand towards my spiritual brothers and sisters, so that I can take them away”, a quoted Mgr. Marine.