In Italy, as in other Mediterranean countries, the sacred and the profane exist side by side. There is nothing like a good shrine, for example, to attract a raggle-taggle of sausage vendors, post card hawkers, fortune tellers, pickpockets, shooting-gallery barkers and common gyp artists all waiting to peel the pilgrims of their lire. And if the shrine honors a particularly popular saint, the traffic in counterfeit relics is brisk.
Such was the situation in the moun tain town of San Giovanni Rotondo, not far from Foggia in southeastern Italy. Here was a shrine to a saint who was not only popular but who provided the extra added attraction of being alive as well. Padre Pio was not officially a saint; to qualify for sainthood, one must be dead and have been responsible for at least four unchallenged miracles. But one day in 1918, the Capuchin friar looked at his hands and what he saw terrified him so that he fainted; the frightened monks who came to help crossed themselves and called a doctor. The credulous who saw the blood flowing from Padre Pio's hands, feet and side cried, "It is the stigmata!" And the monk's fame began to spread.
Shrewish Daughters. The church was officially skeptical. Not until 1933 was the Vatican satisfied that the wounds were not self-inflicted and were truly of mysterious origin.
Pilgrims arrived every day by the hundreds. Hotels sprang up. A hospital, Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, was built with the help of $400,000 raised by New York's Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. In the piazza outside the church where Padre Pio said Mass and heard confessions, hand-painted tiles bearing the padre's bearded face and other tasteless souvenirs were on sale.
At the church, the goings on were even more tasteless. When the doors were opened at 4:45 a.m., there was a stampede of pilgrimsthree-fourths of them womenfor the choice pews. These, however, had been chained and locked off by a group known as the Spiritual Daughters of Padre Pioa shrewish ladies' auxiliary made up of the wives and relatives of local big shots who defended their squatters' rights.
Bubbling Scandal. Donations continued to pour in from all over the world. The monastery prospered astonishingly, to the envy of other Capuchins. Padre Pio, who had been relieved of his vow of poverty in 1957 by Pope Pius XII in order to supervise the donations and administer their good works, became known as "the richest monk in the world." In fact, he declared truthfully, "the money does not belong to me; it belongs to the charities for which it was intended." But jealousyand, by this time, scandalbegan to bubble.