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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? :)

Italy: Planning Your Trip to Padre Pio’s Mountain


As mentioned in my previous post, I made a promise to visit Padre Pio’s beloved San Giovanni Rotondo to thank him for his countless intercessions on my behalf. And so I did…from September 5-9, 2009, with my wonderful hubby (a.k.a. financier) in tow. Hihihi!

I am writing this post to share with all of you who want to go there on your own, without having to sign up for a whole pilgrimage tour across Europe. Please know that we worked on a very limited budget when we took this tour…so you can rest assured that we took pains to economize. I hope that I will be able to help you get the most out of your visit to San Giovanni Rotondo through our experience.

HOW TO GET TO SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO

When we took this trip, our point of origin is Paris; but no matter where you are coming from in the world, the nearest airport to San Giovanni Rotondo is the Bari “Karol Wojtyla” International Airport (Aeroporto di Bari in Italian). We took a Lufthansa flight to go there, which lasted approximately 5 hours because we had to catch a connecting flight in Milan.

Upon reaching the Aeroporto di Bari, you are only 2 hours away from San Giovanni Rotondo! Yey! You have three options to get there:

One: Rent a Car

This is the most convenient mode, I think. There are so many rent-a-car kiosks inside the Aeroporto di Bari that you simply couldn’t miss them! We rented a car from Avis which costs us 52 euros a day, GPS included (38 for the car + 14 for the GPS). Please, please, while the GPS is optional, please don’t ever travel without it! The little streets in Italy have no labels! Unbelievable, but true. The GPS has saved us a lot of time and made it easier for us to plan our trips.

To be able to rent a car, you need a valid ID, a credit card, and an address. And more importantly, you need a license! Don’t forget to bring your driver’s license from your home country. My husband also applied for an international driver’s license via the Automobile Association Philippines and he paid 1800 pesos for it. Of course, AAP only caters to those with Philippine driving licenses.

Having a car at our disposal was really convenient because we were also able to visit other points of interests near San Giovanni Rotondo such as the Sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel and the Molfetta Outlet.

Two: Take the Taxi

If you don’t want to drive, you can always take a taxi from the airport. There are kiosks inside the airport for taxis and they do speak English. However, this will easily cost you approximately 120 euros just for the one way trip going to San Giovanni Rotondo. How you will get back to the airport after your tour is another story, and yes…another expense.

Three: Take the Train and the Bus

If you know a little Italian, I think you can take the train and the bus going to San Giovanni Rotondo. First, you need to catch a train from Bari to Foggia, which will approximately take 1.5 hours. Then, you can take the SITA Bus from Foggia to San Giovanni Rotondo, which takes a little over 40 minutes. I apologize for not being able to give more directions on how to get to the train station at Bari and the bus station at Foggia since I have no first hand experience in taking the public transport in Italy.

WHERE TO STAY IN SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO

There are a lot of hotels in San Giovanni Rotondo In fact, we were surprised to see high-rise buildings there because we initially thought that we were going to a remote place. But since we went there to visit the Padre and not to have a grand vacation, we opted for a modest 2-star hotel — Hotel Immagine (yup, it’s really spelled like that). If you’re not going to spend a lot of time in your room, then this bed and breakfast hotel is good enough. Our room is clean, has hot shower, a ceiling fan, and a tv. As with most hotels in San Giovanni, it has no air-conditioner because it’s already quite cold up there. They provided us with clean towels everyday, but since we brought our own, we didn’t use them.  They also thoughtfully gave us some toiletries — two small bottles of shampoo, soap, and toilet papers. They also served us simple breakfast of assorted biscuits and pastries with the beverage of our choice. This was already included in our payment. They also have a vendo machine inside the hotel if you suddenly feel hungry in the dead of the night…like me! They do have free parking, too, for those who brought their own cars. My only complaint is that they do not have a hair dryer, so please remember to bring your own.You can find their rates here and you can make online reservations with them, too.

WHERE TO EAT IN SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO

Most of the hotels we saw have their own restaurants. Why not? They already have a captured market! At first, we went to these restaurants to eat, but we soon realized that the food is not that good…so we went looking for real restaurants. We can recommend two restaurants which we found really good…and they are both near Padre Pio’s church!

So, what can you expect from the menu? Hmnnn…coming from Paris where everybody eats so little, I was shocked to see that the “Menu Turistico” in san Giovanni Rotondo, which goes for goes for 15-18 euros, is quite heavy! This is what they usually have:

  • heavy appetizer (antipasti) — usually thinly sliced raw ham with mozzarella cheese
  • first main course (primi piatti) — usually pasta
  • second main course (secondi piatti) — a choice of beef, chicken, or fish,
  • side dish (contorni) — usually either salad or fries
  • drink (bevande) — water, soda, or juice

But if you’re a light eater like me, I just order pasta and drinks, since they give free bread anyway. This just costs me around 8 euros. And you should see their pasta serving! It can feed 2 people! Well, I don’t know…the Italians seem to finish theirs awfully fast. Hehehe!

Oh, here are the two restaurants that we feel are worth your euros. Unfortunately, they don’t have web sites. Sigh.

One: I Santi Gelateria e Pasticceria (Via Forgione 10, San Giovanni Rotondo 71013)

Two: La Cialda Bar (right across I Santi Gelateria e Paticceria)

The La Cialda Bar is actually our favorite. They have great pasta and pizza…and what’s more, their menu prices are quite cheap. Try their spaghetti bolognese, as well as their pizza with spicy salami. Yum! :)

Ok, now that you are properly settled in Padre Pio’s mountain, please click here to read about the Padre Pio Places that you should not miss visiting!

Philippines: Padre Pio Church in Libis, Quezon City


I guess each one one us has his/her own sanctuary — a place you go to when you just want to keep still and be quiet. Having to live in a city, I sometimes find it hard to even hear myself think! Even the gazillion Starbucks spread across Metro Manila does not provide a breathing space since they are usually crowded with students and professionals alike. And no, I am not a homebody, so my room does not count as a sanctuary for me. I like the idea of driving towards a certain place that is not home, but feels like home to me. I was looking for a place where I can stay for as long as I want until I am finally able to sort myself out. Believe it or not, I finally found my sanctuary…and surprise, surprise — it’s not a spa, it’s a church! :) …continue reading Philippines: Padre Pio Church in Libis, Quezon City

Italy: The Padre Pio I Know


Padre Pio is my spiritual giant. He is my one and only favorite saint! :)

I came across Padre Pio’s life story one stormy night in Manila, Philippines. They have just suspended classes in all levels the next day, and since I work in a school, that means I have a free day too! Yey! So I decided to curl on my bed and devour a new book I was reserving for the weekend, which apparently, mentioned Padre Pio several times. Too many times, actually, that I decided to make a little research on who this man was. From then on, I have never forgotten this holy man, nor his story, nor what he has done in my life. …continue reading Italy: The Padre Pio I Know

Fireworks Display at the Eiffel Tower!


Fireworks1

I remember being misinformed about two years ago…someone said that there will be fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve…and so, my hubby and I braved the winter chill and camped near the beloved tower in anticipation of the fireworks display. Unfortunately, there was none. Hehe. But we weren’t too disappointed, though, because dear Eiffel was decked with a million lights that blinked to the tune of Auld Lang Syne (if my memory serves me right) at the stroke of midnight! It was definitely one of the most memorable New Year celebrations of my life. :) …continue reading Fireworks Display at the Eiffel Tower!