Rachel Stuhlsatz instructs her children about one of the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina Friday, April 13, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita. The children, from left, are Ella, Will and Gwen. They are with their grandmother, Marian Stuhlsatz. (Advance photo)

By Christopher M. Riggs
The love for one of the church’s contemporary mystics was evident Friday, April 13, when thousands from the Diocese of Wichita and surrounding dioceses venerated relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.
About 4,000 of the faithful stood throughout the day in lines that wound from the front of the cathedral, around the entrance lobby, through the walkway from the gathering space – and at times out into the parking lot. And that figure doesn’t count those who only attended Mass or visited without getting into the line.

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Bishop Kemme’s homily
Bishop Carl A. Kemme told the faithful at the evening Mass that he learned about Padre Pio just seven years after the saint’s death in 1968, while in minor seminary.
“As a young man, his life intrigued me, especially since he lived a life of the priesthood in such a radical way, that he bore the physical wounds of the crucified Lord, that he reportedly was capable of bilocation, and that he spent hours in intense prayer and confessing sinners,” he said in his homily.
Years later, Bishop Kemme said he was able to make a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotundo, just months before Padre Pio was beatified, on May 2, 1999, by Pope John Paul II.
“How amazing to think that now, even years later, his relics are here with us today in the Cathedral of the Diocese of Wichita, where I am blessed to serve as bishop.”
After discussing how relics are venerated in an act of honor – not worshipped, which belongs only to God, Bishop Kemme said, “Even from Apostolic times, the bones of the martyrs and saints were reverently kept as reminders of the lives they lived. Holy Mass was celebrated in the catacombs, where the saints’ bodies were often taken for burial. Thus we have the tradition, though not required, of placing relics in the altars of our churches.”
Relics are not magical, they are mystical, he said, “windows, if you will, into the life and times of the men, women, and children who lived extraordinarily godly lives.”
Padre Pio’s mystical vision was evidence of the saint’s godly life, the bishop said. “It is said that when looking into his eyes, it was as if looking into a higher dimension of reality, peering into heavenly realms.”
The saint spent long hours daily in prayer, Bishop Kemme added, which gave Padre Pio the supernatural ability to endure the suffering that resulted from his gift of the stigmata and an ability to give spiritual remedies to the thousands who flocked to him.
Bishop Kemme closed by sharing some expressions Padre Pio frequently shared:
“Pray, hope and don’t worry,” “My past, O Lord to your mercy, my present, to your love; my future to your providence,” and “Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart.”

Father Keiter’s homily
Father Adam Keiter, rector of the Cathedral said at the noon Mass that the very center of Padre Pio’s life was the Eucharist, the Holy Mass. “His love for the Eucharist was experienced as a burning fire in his heart,” said.
After giving a brief biography about the saint and about Padre Pio’s stigmata, Father Keiter asked rhetorically, “Why did God give him the stigmata?”
Pope Saint John Paul II said at Padre Pio’s canonization that the life and mission of Padre Pio “testify that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted with love, transform themselves into a privileged journey of holiness which opens the person to a greater good known only to the Lord.”
“The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self,” Father Keiter said, quoting the saint. “There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection, except at the price of pain.”
Padres Pio’s greatest gift to us is his example of suffering, his words about suffering, he said.
There isn’t a person in the church who doesn’t have some form of suffering,” Father Keiter said.
“Padre Pio says don’t be afraid of that suffering. It’s necessary for us to love Jesus Christ. The only way for a soul to flower, the only way that baptismal Grace truly unfolds, is by uniting our suffering to the suffering of Jesus Christ.”
Those who wish to carry their cross and carry it well, like Padre Pio, Fr. Keiter said, “seek to find your strength in the Holy Eucharist, seek to find your strength in the holy sacrifice of the Mass that takes place every day in our church all throughout the world.”
The Saint Pio Foundation, the tour’s sponsor, sold religious articles with St Pio’s image in the Cathedral gathering space.
The relics are on tour through the Unites States, Canada, and Mexico as part of a 50th anniversary of Padre Pio’s death. The relics included Saint Pio’s glove, crusts of his wounds, cotton-gauze with Saint Pio’s blood stains, a lock of his hair, his mantle, and Saint Pio’s handkerchief soaked with his sweat hours before he died.
St. Pio was born on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy, and baptized Francesco Forgione. He first expressed his desire for priesthood at age 10. In order to pay for the preparatory education, his father, Grazio Forgione, emigrated in the United States in 1899, where he worked for several years.
The future saint entered the Capuchin order at age 15, taking the name Pio. He was ordained a priest in 1910 at the age of 23. Padre Pio was known as a mystic with miraculous powers of healing and knowledge who bore the stigmata. Stigmata is the term the church uses to speak about the wounds an individual receives that correspond to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. They can appear on the forehead, hands, wrists, and feet.
His stigmata emerged during World War I, after Pope Benedict XV asked Christians to pray for an end to the war. Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ pierced his side. A few weeks later, on Sept. 20, 1918, Jesus again appeared to him, and he received the full stigmata. It remained with him until his death on Sept. 23, 1968. Pope John Paul II canonized him in 2002.

A Knight of Columbus helps a woman return a photo of Padre Pio to her bag after she touched the image to one of the saint’s relics. (Advance photo)
Fr. Drew Hoffman venerates the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina at the morning Mass Friday, April 13, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita. (Advance photo)