SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy (CNA) – In the most discrete manner possible, the body of St Padre Pio was exhumed at 12.30am local time on Monday morning by a group of medical experts, while Church representatives observed.
Padre Pio was buried on September 27, 1968 at the San Giovanni Rotondo shrine four days after he died.
"The body is well preserved" said Bishop Domenico D’Ambrosio of San Giovanni Rotondo-Manfredonia-Vieste, who observed the removal of the saint’s remains.
“From the very beginning (of the exhumation) you could clearly see his beard. The upper part of his skull is visible, but his chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved. You can clearly see his knees, his hands, his mittens and his fingernails,” Bishop D’Ambrosio recalled.
The Italian bishop commented on the state of Padre Pio’s body by saying, "If Fr Pio allows me to say, it is as if he was manicured.”
The Bishop also said that besides the upper skull, which shows some signs of the process of mummification, the rest of his remains are in surprisingly good condition, including his joints -which are all attached, and his feet.
D’Ambrosio confirmed that neither his feet nor hands showed any trace of the stigmata, since "as we know, they disappeared at the moment of his death."
Archbishop Domenico D’Ambrosio, papal delegate for the shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, announced on January 6 that he and the Capuchin friars of Padre Pio’s community had decided it was important to verify the condition of the saint’s body and find a way to ensure its preservation.
"It is my personal conviction and that of the confreres of St Pio that we have an obligation to give the generations that will come after us the possibility of venerating and preserving in the best possible way the mortal remains of St. Pio," Archbishop D’Ambrosio said.
"A further motive for rejoicing," he said, stems from the fact that the Capuchins, with Vatican approval, "have authorised the exposition and public veneration of the saint’s body for several months beginning in mid-April.
In addition to marking the 40th anniversary of Padre Pio’s death, the public veneration of his remains also will coincide with the 90th anniversary of the day on which he was believed to have received the stigmata, bloody wounds recalling the crucifixion wounds of Jesus.
According to the Capuchins, Padre Pio received the stigmata on September 20, 1918.
Immediately after Archbishop D’Ambrosio announced the exhumation of Padre Pio’s body, Italian newspapers and television stations began reporting that members of his family were opposed to the move and were threatening to sue the archbishop and the Capuchins.
But a spokesman for the family denied the rumors and Archbishop D’Ambrosio told Avvenire, the Italian Catholic daily newspaper, that he had been in contact with the family and they raised no objections.
Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy.
As a Capuchin, he was a famed confessor and preacher and had a widespread reputation as one whose prayers were effective in procuring miraculous cures. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1999 and canonised him in 2002.
Almost 40 years after his death, the body of St Padre Pio shows uneven signs of decay, but can be treated in a way that will make it possible to place the body on display for the veneration of the faithful, the local archbishop said.
In a statement released on March 3, the Archbishop said the exhumation and subsequent procedures would guarantee the "prolonged preservation of the body of our saint to allow generations to come the possibility of venerating and safeguarding his relics."
Padre Pio’s remains have been moved to a room set up in the adjacent Capuchin convent where he lived for many years.
Technicians will use chemicals to prepare the body for long-term preservation.
The body will be placed in a new glass coffin and is scheduled to be in place for public viewing beginning on April 24.
-Additional reporting by CNS