Visiting St. Pio in New York City

Visiting St. Pio in New York City September 23, 2018

Saturday evening, I had the privilege of visiting the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, in lower Manhattan, to see some of the relics of St. Pio (Padre Pio, to most of us) and attend a Mass for his feast day, celebrated by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations. This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the day Padre Pio entered into eternal life, so being among his relics held a special poignancy and power.

It was a memorable visit. First, there’s the cathedral itself, which I’ve written about before and which is a real American treasure.

There were vendors outside, selling Padre Pio tee shirts and holy cards.

Also outside, in the spirit of the great saint, was the pastor, Msgr. Donald Sakano, who spent eight hours in the courtyard hearing confessions.

Inside, the faithful lined up throughout the day to see the relics, which included one of the saint’s gloves, one of his robes and a cloth stained with his sweat just a few hours before he died.

The Mass was a beautiful celebration itself, with a gorgeous schola singing many parts a capella, and that famous Erben organ adding a classic piece of history to renditions of “Panis Angelicus” and “For All the Saints.”

You can hear that incredible organ below.

The Mass concluded with five minutes of quiet prayer, during which the basilica church bells rang out. As I heard them toll, I found myself reflecting on all the thousands of people who had answered those bells, across more than 150 years: all the immigrants, shopkeepers, laborers, mothers, grandmothers — many from Italy and Ireland — who trudged through the cobblestone streets into that very church to light candles, whisper an “Ave,” receive communion, or pray for an intention burning in their heart.

After Mass, Luciano Lamonarca, the head of the St. Pio Foundation — the organization which is sponsoring this tour of the relics — expressed his gratitude to the pastor and the faithful who had gathered. (Full disclosure: I’m a longtime supporter of the Foundation and a great admirer of the work they do. Visit their website to learn more!)

Also of note is an unexpectedly powerful statue of St. Pio erected outside the basilica, and just dedicated last week. It was crafted by the gifted artist Timothy Schmalz — most famous, perhaps, for “Homeless Jesus” — and it offers an experience that you might describe as interactive.

When I was visiting, there was an endless line of people streaming into the small space containing the statue, eager to have their picture taken. Yes, I was one of them.

What many might not realize is that, once you are seated, you are not alone. You encounter the face and hand of Christ. You can, in a sense, touch God’s mercy. It is a beautiful and humbling way of understanding the power of the sacrament of reconciliation.

All in all, it was a great afternoon and evening, and my wife and I were richly blessed to be a part of it.

St. Pio, pray for us!


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