The Roman Catholic Church recently announced that Padre Pio will be taking a road trip. Now, this doesn’t really sound newsworthy until your realize that Padre Pio has been dead since 1968. Nevertheless, he will be traveling overland to the Vatican from his little hometown in southeast Italy where he has been “resting”, except for one nasty interruption in 2008, since his death over four decades ago.
Padre Pio was a Capuchin monk who is believed to have been able to predict what a person was about to confess. The Catholic Church also claims that he suffered from “stigmata”, that his body bore the same wounds that Jesus had in his hands and feet from the crucifixion. Many declared him a fake but the Church stood fast in its declaration of the merit of the miracles and declared him a saint in 2002.
Six years later the Church exhumed his body from its resting place in the town Padre Pio had called home, San Giovanni Rotondo. The plan was for the saint to be on display during Holy Year at St. Peter’s Basilica as part of the program that was themed on mercy. Personally, I believe it would have been more merciful to let him lie where he was. Especially considering that he had to undergo partial facial reconstruction after being interred for forty years. A silicone-mask recreated Padre Pio’s face and he was relaid to rest within a climate controlled crystal reliquary.
It would have also been a mercy for the little town where Padre Pio had been buried if the Church would have left him there. Many pilgrims traveled to the little town to pay homage to the burial site of the saint and this has been a real boon for the local economy. But, the Church gets to call the shots and the mystic monk in the crystal coffin will be making his way to Rome despite the protest of the locals who have tended to him since his death.
The whole idea of spending the money and time to travel to some far off place to stare into the face of a dead person just seems a bit bizarre to me. However, it seems to be a rather common thing for people to do. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing.
Chairman Mao of China is also entombed in a glass coffin and has been on public display since his death in 1976. And, if he were alive today I don’t think he would be too happy with the Communist Party he led for doing such a thing. He actually wanted to be cremated. The Communist Party is tricky like that. And that’s not the only trick they pulled where Mao’s remains are concerned. Sometimes it’s not even his body the public is getting to see. Sometimes it’s a wax imposter.
And Padre Pio shares the Church limelight with a saintly woman named Bernadette. The Church contends that Bernadette actually had conversations with the Virgin Mary and that by the work of her own hands dug through the earth and opened up a “miraculous spring of penance”. After she died her coffin was later opened and Church authorities recorded that her body showed no signs of decay. She has henceforth been enshrined in a glass display and looks as if she is taking a nap.
As for me, I’m with Mao. Please, cremate me. Please don’t stare at me while I’m sleeping.