At Last, the Church Padre Pio Wanted

Landmark in Italy Is Inaugurated; Can Seat 6,500

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SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, JULY 2, 2004 ( Government officials and humble pilgrims alike attended the inauguration of a monumental church built in response to St. Pio of Pietrelcina's wish, in the town where the "friar of the stigmata" lived.

The church, designed by the architect Renzo Piano, has been described by some of the Italian media as the largest in the Catholic world, after St. Peter's Basilica.

Holy See spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls, who attended the inauguration Mass on Thursday, said that John Paul II "is pleased with St. Giovanni Rotondo and with this new church."

The Mass was presided over by Archbishop Domenico D'Ambrosio of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, the Holy See's delegate for the St. Pio de Pietrelcina Shrine.

In his homily, the archbishop said that the new church constitutes a call to holiness, as was the life of the Capuchin religious.

Among the concelebrants were more than 25 bishops; Archbishop Paolo Romeo, apostolic nuncio in Italy who represented the Pope; and Father John Corriveau, minister general of the Capuchin Franciscans.

Construction on the new church began in 1994, although Padre Pio already spoke about it in 1959. On July 1 of that year, the new church of St. Mary of Graces was inaugurated, and the Capuchin friar asked jokingly: "What have you built? A matchbox?"

"The next church must be made larger," Padre Pio told his brother Capuchins.

The Capuchin friars interpreted his words as an order. In fact, the numbers relating to the construction of the new church are impressive. Inside, it has a seating capacity of 6,500. The square in front of the church has space for 40,000. The church and adjacent buildings cost between 30 million and 35 million euros ($36 million to $42.6 million), collected from donors worldwide.

St. Pio was born in 1887. After entering the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, he was ordained a priest in 1910. That year he was sent to the monastery of St. Giovanni Rotondo where he stayed until his death in September 1968.

John Paul II canonized the Capuchin on June 16, 2002.

More than 7 million pilgrims visit San Giovanni Rotondo every year. There are more than 3,000 Padre Pio Prayer Groups worldwide.