"VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Padre Pio, the 20th century Italian mystic monk
and miracle worker who for 50 years is said to have had the stigmata -- the
bleeding wounds of Christ -- had for many people always been a saint.
Pope John Paul formally declared his sainthood on Sunday at a solemn ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands in a sweltering St. Peter's Square and watched on screen by millions in Italy and around the world.
For many, this was simply the Church rubber-stamping a status they had always believed in.
Padre Pio's fame centers on the stigmata, which he had for 50 years from 1918 until his death in 1968 at the age of 81.
Padre Pio had wounds in the hands, feet and side that corresponded with the wounds Christ suffered in the crucifixion. He used brown fingerless gloves to absorb the blood and cover the wounds except when he said mass.
Doctors were at a loss to explain the wounds, which never produced gangrene or infection.
When they examined him they were able to feel their fingers pressing in from either side. When he held up the host at mass, the faithful were able to see light coming through the wounds.
When he was first investigated by a Vatican inquisitor in 1927, a report suspected that he inflicted the wounds on himself with nitric acid. But devotees said it was ridiculous to think he could have done this for 50 years.
Friars who lived with him like to tell the story of a man who told Padre Pio of a doctor who believed that the monk had willed the wounds on himself by always contemplating a crucifix.
Padre Pio told the man: "Tell your doctor friend to go stare at a cow and see if horns grow on his head."
Pio lost a cup of blood a day from the stigmata, ate one Spartan meal a day and slept three hours each night. Yet he was not anemic and did not lose weight.
The stigmata started fading toward the end of his life and disappeared when he died.
WRESTLING WITH THE DEVIL
Padre Pio is said to have had a stern look in his eyes that could scare even the devil and, some say, it sometimes did.
Padre Pio had no sympathy for the devil and the devil certainly had none for him. His biographers say he wrestled with the devil, literally, and one of the many books written about him is called "The Devil in the Life of Padre Pio."
According to monks who lived with him, the last big demonic tussle was in July, 1964, when, at 10 o'clock at night the friars heard him calling out from his cell.
They found him on the floor, his forehead slit open. He told a priest later "the devil tried to scratch out my eyes."
The next day, the devil is said to have spoken through a possessed person, saying "I went to visit somebody. I took revenge."
Many people said Padre Pio was able to predict events in their lives or knew what they were about to confess.
He was also said to be seen in two places at the same time -- a mystic ability the Church calls "bi-location"
The Vatican investigated and rehabilitated him twice and cleared him of charges of sexual misconduct and fraud. In the 1930s he was ordered not to say mass in public or hear confessions.
The ban was lifted after three years. A new investigation began in 1960 but he was cleared and rehabilitated in 1965.
PILGRIM BOOM TOWN
The bearded, brown-robed Padre Pio spent nearly all his life in a simple monastery in the hilltop town of San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy's rugged southern Puglia region.
When he arrived in 1918, it was a dusty dot of a village of peasants connected to the outside world by a mule path.
Today, it is the Lourdes of southern Italy, a pilgrim boom town of some 27,000 residents and 7.5 million visitors a year. Its economy revolves around souvenir shops, hotels and the huge hospital which Padre Pio built.
He is credited with performing two miracles after his death for people who prayed to him.
Before his beatification -- the penultimate step before sainthood -- he was credited with the medically inexplicable healing of an Italian woman who had a lung disease.
The second miracle was the curing of an 11-year-old Italian boy who had meningitis and whose mother prayed to Padre Pio while her son was in a coma."
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