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PADRE PIO PLACES: Exploring San Giovanni Rotondo

The best thing about setting off to explore all the Padre Pio places in San Giovanni Rotondo is that each of them is just a few steps away from each other. Yep, you don’t have to consult your map every five minutes or so. This is the first thing I noticed because I am always, always, geographically-challenged! Take me to a mall, blindfold me, spin me around, and it will surely take me a lot of time to figure out where I am. Lol! I guess I should watch more of that Brainy Baby DVDs that help develop your brain and prepare you for things like this. Hehehe!

Ok, so back to our topic…all in all, there are five must-visit places in San Giovanni Rotondo. Each of these places has its own story to tell. If you go with a pilgrimage tour group, you usually just have half a day to visit all these…or maybe a day at most. But in my own humble opinion, you should take at least two days in this mountain to experience its wonder and the different vibe that it has. If you often wonder why a lot of people have decided to abandon their old lives and stay in this mountain for good, it would be really good to come at a time when you are giving yourself a spiritual recharge and not merely vacationing. That way, you can stay longer and experience this place fully. Their cuisine is something to enjoy as well! And mind you, this mountain is not lacking in souvenir shops. I must have spent hours going through all the nice items they have on display…hehehe!

Below is my attempt to give you a preview of the must-visit places in San Giovanni Rotondo. I have not indicated addresses because you’re not going to need them; trust me. When you get to one of these places, the others will be just a few steps away. And yeah…just follow the crowd! Padre Pio had always been a crowd drawer. Even now (year 2009), 40 years after he died, 7 million people visit his mountain every year…and the number continues to grow as the families of his faithful devotees continue to expand.

ONE: Santa Maria Delle Grazie (Our Lady of Grace Church)

This church actually started as a small one when the Capuchin friars arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo. The little church was consecrated and dedicated to Our Lady of Grace on July 5, 1676. Padre Pio celebrated Mass here from 1916 to 1959. When you get there, here are the interesting points to see:

a. The Padre’s Confessional Box

The confessional box is now enclosed in hard, transparent plastic. Maybe it’s fiberglass? I’m not really sure. When you look through the plastic wall, you’d see that a lot of devotees have tossed over their petition letters, photographs, ultrasound results, and even money. You’d know that people all over the world have set foot in that place because the notes/messages they tossed were in different languages. This is the same confessional box where in 1947, Father Karol Józef Wojtyła, a young Polish priest, came and received absolution from Padre Pio. It is also in this same confessional box where Padre Pio told Father Wojtyła that he will someday ascend to the highest post in the Church…true enough, he became our beloved Pope John Paul II.

b. The Altar

The altar has the image of Our Lady of Grace, the protector of San Giovanni Rotondo. This altar is where Padre Pio celebrated the Holy Eucharist from 1916 to 1959.

c. The Tomb

I find it unnerving that the Padre’s tomb was already built before he died. In fact, it was blessed the day before he went to heaven. The guide book I bought in one of the souvenir stores says that the Padre’s coffin is laid one meter below floor level and is protected by a three ton monolithic block. Both Pope John Paul II and Saint Theresa of Calcutta have visited the tomb and have prayed there.

d. The Padre’s Cell

Padre Pio occupied this cell from 1943 to 1968. Looking at it, you could see how humble and simple the Padre’s life was. I only saw a bed, a side table, an arm chair, a desk, a chair, a lamp, and a tiny sink. On the walls hang religious pictures, together with his parents’ photo. There were a few personal belongings, too, like his slippers and some books. There is nothing in this room that would tell you that a great man, no less than a saint, has lived and died in it.

e. The Cell of the Operation

In October 5, 1925, Padre Pio had to undergo an operation for hernia in this cell. Dr. Giorgio Festa operated on him and the friary has preserved everything that was used for this procedure. It is interesting to note that Padre Pio requested that no anesthetics be used on him because he knew that Dr. Festa will take advantage of the occasion and inspect his stigmata. Goodness, an operation without anesthesia! Naturally, the pain was said to have been so severe that Padre Pio fainted.

f. The Crucifix in the Choir Loft

It was on September 20, 1918 when Padre Pio received his stigmata, and it happened while he was praying on his knees before this crucifix. He carried the stigmata for 50 years – until his death on September 23, 1968.

g. Padre Pio’s Body on Display

I was almost discouraged to go see Padre Pio’s mortal remains when I saw the line! People were lined up there from 7:00am and they say that on the average, it will take you three hours before you get to enter and see Padre Pio. Three hours?! Luckily, I saw that there is another entrance marked “priority entrance” used by the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. I politely asked the lady guard if I can also go through that entrance because I am pregnant, and she did let us pass! Yey! If you are eligible to use the priority entrance, you can find it at the extreme left of the Our Lady of Grace Church if you are facing the church.

Here’s a tip: I noticed that it is best to go see Padre Pio’s mortal remains very early in the morning, say 8:00am. The busloads of pilgrims haven’t arrived yet and the room where Padre Pio lies is not yet crowded. You can go pray in front of him and stare at his uncorrupt body all you want. He is encased in glass and surrounded by a waist-high fence which prevents people from getting too near. If you have a letter for Padre Pio, you can drop it in the designated drop boxes attached to the fence. Of course there are a lot of guards there, but they do allow you to take pictures. They just want you to do it quickly and not cause too much traffic.

Looking at Padre Pio lying there, it is almost impossible to believe that he is not breathing. He just looks asleep to me. At one point, I actually wondered if he’ll wake up if I scream at the top of my lungs. Hehehe! But of course I didn’t scream…I just stood there and looked at him for a good ten minutes. It felt as though I was looking at an old friend. His face is very peaceful; it was as if he is dreaming good dreams.

h. The Bigger and Newer Our Lady of Grace Church

In 1954, Padre Pio was forced to say Mass outdoors because there were a lot of people coming over to San Giovanni Rotondo and they no longer fit in the church; thus, they found it fitting to expand the old church in 1956. The bigger church was completed and consecrated on July 1, 1959. The mosaic, which serves as the backdrop of the altar, shows Padre Pio as an intercessor between man and the Virgin Mary.

TWO: Pilgrimage Church of Padre Pio

The pilgrimage church was designed by architect Renzo Piano, who thoughtfully built it not only to accommodate a large number of people, but also to give visitors a sense of what “pilgrimage” is, which in the old world is understood as “path to salvation”. Therefore, before you can reach the pilgrimage church, you have to go through what they call, “the long avenue with the great stone cross”, which I look at as somewhat of a sacrifice offering. This foot path is inclined upwards…a real challenge to one’s leg muscles! Embarrassing as it may seem, I have to admit that I had to stop several times, along with the other elderly people, before I reached the top. Lol! Talk about lack of exercise. J

Here are the interesting points in the Pilgrimage Church:

a. The Church Square

After conquering the long avenue, you would immediately see the church square. It is a wide open space where they would usually hold candle-lit vigils at night and other religious celebrations. It can hold 30,000 people at any one time. At the rightmost part of the square, you will see 12 pools of trapezoidal shape. The water flows from one pool to the next, and ends at the baptismal font. The pool was designed to remind pilgrims of Jesus’ baptism at the River Jordan. Olive trees also surround the pool, reminiscent of the olive trees where Jesus usually rest and reflect during His time.

b. The Church of Padre Pio

Looking at the church from the outside, a spaceship actually comes to mind. Its entrance gates opens like the spaceship doors they have in the movie…from the ground up, and is somewhat like a giant wing. But nothing prepared me on the enormousness of this Church when I stepped inside.

The Church of Padre Pio can seat 6,500 people at any one time. From a structural point of view, this is the first time that I have seen a series of marble arcs curve their way all over the Church in a beautiful pattern. They say that these marbles have steel cables inside to hold them together. I sure do hope those cables won’t ever break! Those marbles look really heavy!

Another eye-catching detail of this Church is the large bronze cross, which again, is suspended in mid-air and held together by steel cables. They do love steel cables, don’t they? The cross is not your usual solid cross; it is made of little bronze wedges put together to form a spiky, gigantic cross. It is refreshing to see a cross which allows sunlight to pass through it. Staring at it, with sunlight bursting through its little seams, communicates a feeling of hope…at least, for me.

The most intriguing detail that I found in this Church is the sculptured pulpit. Why? Because it’s main focus are the events in the Bible revolving around Mary Magdalene. The sculpture is a four-part scene which showed Mary Magdalene taking Jesus’ body to the tomb, listening to the angels’ announcement of Christ’s resurrection, her meeting of the resurrected Christ, and announcing Christ’s resurrection to Peter and John. Why Mary Magdalene’s scenes were chosen to adorn the pulpit, I’m not really sure. But it is truly a beautiful pulpit.

There is no way by which you could ever ignore the massive and impressive hand-made organ inside the Church. This organ is said to be the largest mechanical organ ever built in Italy. Skilled craftsmen from the Pinchi Firm in Foligno built this organ using 5,814 pipes. The guidebook says that it is 12 meters high, 10 meters wide, and 6 meters in depth. It is really huge!

THREE: Museo de Padre Pio

I had a great time going around the Padre’s museum. There were gigantic pictures of the Padre, his old clothes, the stuff he used, his car, and even his coffin. Lots of things to see, really, if you are interested to have a glimpse of what Padre Pio’s everyday life looks like.

FOUR: The Way of the Cross

Ah, this one is not for the faint of heart. I had to brave a thousand steps or so to go through the Way of the Cross, and I didn’t even get to finish it! They built this across the mountain and there is no way that a pregnant lady like me can survive it without having contractions…hehehe! Excuses, excuses! But seriously, you have got to prepare well for this activity. Maybe you should do it after eating a full meal…and don’t forget to bring water! The Way of the Cross winds its way up the Castellano mountain, and welcomes guests with two large stairways, and these stairways go all the way up and around the mountain, finally ending at the statue of the resurrected Christ.

FIVE: Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering)

This House for the Relief of Suffering was opened on May 5, 1956 and was founded by Padre Pio through the generous donations of devotees. I wasn’t able to get inside this hospital because everybody says that it is not safe for a pregnant woman to be wandering around hospital halls. Sigh. But I did take a picture of the massive hospital, which they say is one of the most efficient hospitals in Italy…and well, even in the whole of Europe.

So there! I hope that the notes I jotted above will help you plan your San Giovanni Rotondo pilgrimage. Say hi to Padre Pio for me when you get there, ok? :)

Comments

Pingback from Italy: Planning Your Trip to Padre Pio’s Mountain | La Vie en Rose
Time: November 29, 2009, 11:27 pm

[…] PADRE PIO PLACES: Exploring San Giovanni Rotondo […]

Comment from guinevere carreon fajardo
Time: December 5, 2009, 12:41 am

hi,

how lucky you are my dear. i am happy for you. you are so blessed.

hoping for good life ahead of you.

Comment from may nitura
Time: December 13, 2009, 10:13 am

hi,
would it be impossible if i ask pare pio to bring me and my husband in that very blessed place? i wish i can go there too.

Comment from monette
Time: March 18, 2010, 3:39 am

Hi May!

Give Padre Pio a try and you might just find yourself in San Giovanni Rotondo. This early, I want to wish you a “happy trip”! :)

Comment from dane
Time: April 17, 2010, 12:39 pm

Hi, im from philippines andi had learned about the padre pio shrine in QC from you. this april 21 to 23 im going to padre pio shrine in santo tomas batangas and im planning to visit san giovanni rotondo in the future,and i just want to ask do you know how to get a tourist visa in italy? so i could see padre pio.

Comment from Sonia Natividad
Time: June 28, 2010, 3:36 am

@Italy: Planning Your Trip to Padre Pio’s Mountain | La Vie en Rose
I’m planning a trip to San Giovanni myself and found your blog really useful and interesting. What a coincidence that Renzo Piano built that architectural wonder — the Pilgrimage Church! I had the good fortune to meet him briefly years ago when he was building the Osaka airport in Japan…he is not only a great architect, he is a great artist.

Comment from roque sumulong
Time: August 9, 2010, 6:09 am

Peace be with you…Thank you so much for that wonderful pilgrimage you did share and I did enjoy like I am with you guys, experiencing everything through your well said words…
May the Lord bless and keep you in His loving embrace…
Simon, before he took his NCLEX exam did pray for St. Pio’s intercession at the phil center and his prayers were answered…He is now in the USA with Ana at your tita Vita’s place…We love you guys and the Lord bless you…We hope and pray that you will make it to Canada soon to be with your relatives…The Lord be with you…

Comment from Chit L. Reynoso
Time: September 22, 2010, 11:16 am

hi… i enjoyed reading your story. I’ve known Padre Pio way back 2006 when my son had a retreat at the Capuchin Brother’s Retreat House somewhere in Lipa City… The Capuchin priest introduced to us Padre Pio and shared us short stories.. I prayed and even I touched the huge picture of him..I wrote a short letter with 2 petitions I wanted to happen during that time, and amazing, after 2 days one of my petition was granted exactly what I wrote. Thanks Padre Pio, Thanks Papa Jesus…

Comment from RACQUEL
Time: February 24, 2011, 8:59 am

Hi, I enjoyed reading about Padre Pio’s short biography and all his works and prayers when at the same time I read your very interesting blog.
Me and my husband attended the mass several times at Padre Pio Church in Libis Q.C, since then I was heartfully amazed with all about him specially his loved in praying for the rosary and his dedication to work for others by prayers and mirales.
Please help me to pray to Padre Pio to help me get pregnant. Im married for 8 years and now I am 36 years old. Please include me in your prayers.
Thank you
RACQUEL FRANCISCO

Comment from dang
Time: May 19, 2011, 4:45 am

hello!nag enjoy aq sa pgba2sa ng blog mo…sa totoo lng kelan q lng nakila2 si Padre Pio coz of my friend kc naka2tawa man nagpa2turo aq sa knya kung pno q mabu2ntis kc almost 5years na kmi kasal ng hubby q until now wla pa kmi anak…very sad dba?pro nabuntis nmn aq last 2007 but sad to say naagasan aq..sana isama mo aq sa mga prayers mo for Padre Pio.

thank you…

Comment from bing
Time: May 20, 2011, 6:22 am

hi..thanks for sharing your wonderfully blessed journey.you have just touched my life at this very moment and i feel so blessed myself getting to know Padre Pio through you.i promise to send him your warmest regards when we see each other in San Giovanni, Rotondo :-)..i don’t have the means at this time (in fact, i don’t even know when i shall have the means, haha) but like you said, i wanna give Padre Pio a try.. may God bless you and your family more.

Comment from Ma. Luisa S. Andrade
Time: June 5, 2011, 2:15 pm

Hi! Thanks for sharing your experiences with Saint Pio, i was really touched and cried when i saw his picture (he looks like he’s just sleeping) i felt something inside that made me cry. i had an accident last april 22, 2011, my knee got operated due to fractured patella, unfortunately it got infected until now i still can not walk,another doctor is thinking of another operation to look for a deeper problem or by removing the wire that the other doctor put on my knee. i am hoping and praying that my knee would be healed even without another operation. though i can not walk right now, i want to go to his chapel in Libis, how? i do not know…please pray for my healing… i also would like to go to San Giovanni Rotondo some day with my family… how? i also really don’t know. but i believe in miracles… thank you so much for letting me know Saint/Padre Pio. My friend gave me a copy of Saint Pio’s prayers, the reason why i saw your blog, i became interested on him…so i search in internet and thanks to you… as what Bing said “i will also promise to send him your warmest regards when we see each other at San Giovanni Rotondo” Bless you and your family :)

Comment from Fred Tongco
Time: April 8, 2012, 12:09 pm

@Ma. Luisa S. Andrade – Hi Luisa, I happened to stumble on this site when i was searching for travel info to San Giovanni. I have been a St. Pio devotee since 2008 and the Holy Padre Pio has granted my family’s requests many times over. We’re just fortunate that St. Pio Center in Quezon City is near our place. Now i’m asking for intercession for my fractured wrist. Ever since you posted your commentary have you already visited St. Pio Centre? God bless.

Comment from Dolores
Time: September 29, 2012, 2:01 am

hi monette
reading your blog, i felt like we’re travelling with you..you truly are blessed, what with all the people who were touched by your writings and who discovered Padre Pio through you..since i last read your blog, i already planned a visit to Libis with my husband (with no means yet because we live in Legazpi City) hoping for a wonderful spiritual experience and to pray for my son who’s taking the Bar Examinations this October ( and of course, for other intentions as well) and right today, 5 days away from my target date of going, it is finally being answered. my niece expressed her desire to go there too, offered her car for us to use ( with the gas and the driver included, hihihi) isn’t that a miracle already? i have great faith and hopes we can obtain the amount needed for our travel there.. please include us in your prayers.. i am praying for your family also to continue being blessed and for all the intentions of your readers/”fans” like me…. thank you so much..

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