St. Padre Pio’s heart relic returns to Italy

MANILA — The Philippines has the biggest number of devotees who venerated the incorrupt heart of Saint Padre Pio of Petrelcina during its 20-day visit to the country.

Father Joselin Gonda, rector of the National Shrine of Padre Pio in Santo Tomas, Batangas, said the almost one-month stay of the Italian saint’s first-class relic was visited by four million to five million people in Luzon, including Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao where it was brought.

“In and out was the veneration style. My gut feeling during the entire visit — around four (million) to five million (viewed it) because I was there all the time,” he said in an interview before the farewell Mass at the Shrine on Friday.

He added that the overwhelming number of devotees in all the areas visited by the relic came as a huge surprise to Fr. Carlo Laborde, current superior of the Convento Santuario Santa Maria delle Grazie in Italy where Padre Pio’s remains rest.

“Even their Superior Fr. Carlo Laborde, he was in Paraguay, Argentina and said that the crowd was never this big. It was only by the hundreds and thousands there,” the priest said.

The relic is scheduled to be brought back to Italy Friday afternoon.

When asked why Filipinos love Saint Padre Pio, Gonda said, “Filipinos are a people of faith. They seem to have found something unique and different with the heart because it’s only the heart that was brought to the Philippines. It’s close to our hearts. It’s about love, family and relationship.”

The Philippines is the fourth country to be visited by the heart relic after the United States, Paraguay, and Argentina.

The relic arrived in the country last Oct. 6 and was visited and viewed in Batangas, Manila, Cebu and Davao.