Earlier this month, organizers of the event were estimating that the crowds could be as large as 1 million people. At that point, realizing that it would be impossible to accommodate that number of people in the city-- and certainly to allow them to participate in the ceremony in St. Peter's Square-- the organizers began discouraging new arrivals, and urging the many people who are devoted to Padre Pio to follow the ceremonies on television.
Only 150,000 people will be able to enter St. Peter's Square for the beatification, and another 200,000 will view the ceremony on a large-screen television set up in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. After the beatification, Pope John Paul II will travel to St. John Lateran to lead the faithful there in praying the Regina Coeli.
The beatification of Padre Pio-- the Capuchin friar and stigmatist whose reputation for holiness and for producing miracles earned him an enormous following all over the world-- is seen in Rome as a test of preparations for the Jubilee Year festivities. If the city can successfully absorb 500,000 pilgrims in a weekend, it will be deemed ready for the crowds that are expected to flock to Rome for the 40 different major religious ceremonies already scheduled for the year 2000.
Born on Mary 25, 1887, Francisco Forgione entered the Capuchin order at the age of 16, taking the name Pio. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1910, and in 1916 he was assigned to the monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo, where he lived the rest of his days. He earned a widespread reputation as a confessor and spiritual director, and began drawing thousands of pilgrims to the monastery. In 918 he received the stigmata-- the wounds of Christ being manifest on his hands and feet for the remaining 50 years of his life. As his reputation grew, and reports of miracles were attributed to his intercession, the crowds at San Giovanni Rotondo became almost unmanageable, and in 1931 he was asked to restrict his public ministry.
In 1947 Padre Pio began work to build a house for the sick at San Giovanni Rotondo, and-- largely as a result of his efforts-- that institution is now one of Italy's major hospitals. Still more important, in the wake of World War II dozens of "Padre Pio prayer groups" began to spring up all around the world, eventually claiming hundreds of thousands of participants inspired by his teaching and example.
Padre Pio died in September 1968, and the formal cause for his beatification was opened in 1983. With a flood of documentation testifying to his pious life, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints filled 104 volumes with the collected evidence, and in 1997 issued a decree affirming that he had lived a life of "heroic virtue." In December 1998 the Congregation officially approved the veracity of a miracle attributed to his intercession, and Pope John Paul soon set the date for his beatification on May 2.
Archbishop Perko told the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana that he could "completely exclude" the possibility of a papal visit to the embattled Balkan city. "The Pope has always spoken out against the bombing, and for that he is appreciated by the authorities in Belgrade," the archbishop explained. "But to visit Belgrade under these conditions would signal support for Milosevic, and that Holy See cannot allow that."
Archbishop Perko said that he is pessimistic about the prospects that peace talks will end the current warfare. Saying that both NATO and Milosevic appear unwilling to compromise, he reasoned that in the absence of "a real miracle," a negotiated solution will prove elusive. "I cannot see any solution other than victory or defeat," he said.
The Belgrade prelate expressed regret that the Serbian leadership did not pursue negotiations in Rambouillet, primarily because they did not have confidence in their negotiating partners from NATO. "A discussion-- even if it lasted forever-- would have avoided the massacres," he said. Once the bombing began, he said, it eliminated "any possibility of future accord between Serbs and Albanians."
The archbishop said that the war is taking a heavy toll on his Serbian people. "The humanitarian tragedy is now affecting Serbia, too," he said, as the NATO air strikes devastate the economy. He added: "The war is reducing the people to misery--- today the Kosovars, and tomorrow the Serbs."
"We urge Guatemalan authorities to undertake new, vigorous efforts to identify all those involved and to bring them to justice," a US State Department statement said on the first anniversary of the bludgeoning death of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera. The bishop was killed two days after releasing a human rights report that blamed the army and its paramilitary allies for most of the deaths during the country's 36-year civil war.
Although Catholic leaders and human rights groups have urged the government to focus the investigation on the links to the human rights report, investigators have named a priest who lived with the slain bishop as the primary suspect. Last Friday, Special Prosecutor Celvin Galindo requested that DNA tests be performed on 12 military officers and five other people, including Father Mario Orantes Najera, who found Bishop Gerardi's body in the rectory where they both lived and worked.
The State Department said: "We share the intense frustration of Guatemalans and many others committed to the protection of human rights." It added, "The viciousness of the attack that killed him stunned the entire world."
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput reminded that in spite of the great suffering experienced, one must also regard that "love is stronger than death". "I believe it, he said, Love is stronger than death. In fact, after witnessing the dignity and the goodness of the parents who lost children at Columbine, we all know that love is stronger than death".
"Perhaps, continued the Archbishop with words full of hope, beyond all this suffering, something good really will be achieved. Perhaps each of us will begin to recover the vocation for which all of us are made -the vocation to love each other, no matter what the cost".
The Archbishop of Denver raised a prayer to God, "Father of Life, Father of Hope", asking for "light and peace" for those who died at Columbine, His "consolation and strength" for the families and friends of the victims, and forgiveness for those who originated this tragedy. He also urged all to choose "lives of conversion and sacrifice, not just in our words, but in our actions".
Meanwhile in Mexico City, another Archbishop warned of another danger when Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Archbishop of Mexico, warned during his Sunday homily against the presence of false pastors and sects in society, asking Mexican Catholics "not to fall in the hands of these bandits and soul thieves".
These people, stated the Archbishop "exert fraudulent manipulations" of the Gospel and announce "new and fascinating doctrines and teachings" to seduce people to exchange the rich treasure of Catholic faith for a handful of strange ideas. False pastors and their sects, he emphasized, offer new experiences and doctrines that are "softer than the exigent and comforting Gospel of Jesus Christ".
The Archbishop of Mexico also warned that these false pastors can present themselves in explicitly anti Catholic groups, in pseudo spiritual movements, in religious currents originated in syncretism or in spiritualist groups that present themselves as philosophies that lead Catholics not only to abandon the Lord, but also try to convince them that it is possible to belong to these groups without ceasing to be Catholics.
This was the beginning of Jean-Marie Benjamin's spiritual journey. Among his musical compositions is the UNICEF Hymn. He is also a film director and television producer. In fact, on April 27, RAI -- the Italian public television channel will transmit 'The Night of the Prophet: Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.' The video version of this work has already sold 140,000 copies. And it all began during that dinner in Paris ...
Padre Pio, Francesco Forgione, was born in Pietrelcina on May 25, 1887. After entering the Capuchin order, he was ordained a priest on August 10, 1910. That same year he received the stigmata, a mysterious phenomenon common among mystics.
The miraculous phenomena that radiated from his person, as well as his extraordinary ability as a confessor, was reflected in the crowds of people who streamed to his monastery, San Giovanni Rotondo. Padre Pio began his significant apostolic work, the House for the Relief of Suffering, a very large hospital which could easily become one of the best in Europe thanks to the donations of the faithful. It was inaugurated on May 5, 1956. Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968.
On Sunday, May 2, John Paul II will beatify Padre Pio. If current estimates are accurate, the anticipated crowds will be the largest in Roman religious history.
Attracted by the life of Padre Pio, who in 1968 was in the last months of his life, Benjamin not only went to San Giovanni Rotondo, but he got in line to go to confession with the famous Capuchin. It was the month of February of that year. Padre Pio was already ill and tired. Benjamin was asked about the last time he had been to confession; he gave an answer out of the blue. Padre Pio shook his head and told Benjamin to think again. The penitent gave another date, but Padre Pio would still not accept it. In the end, the confessor came up with the exact date.
"You are French," the Capuchin said. And he advised him to go to confession to a French priest. "He said good-bye and rapped me on the head."
"A few months later, when I heard the news of his death, I remembered his advice. I got up the courage and found a church to go to confession. There were two confessionals; I chose one of them. 'Padre Pio sent me,' I told the confessor. The priest came out of the confessional immediately: he was the representative in France of the House for the Relief of Suffering."
And this is how the relationship between Benjamin and his spiritual director began. "You are not ready for the priesthood. If God wants you, he will call you," his confessor told Benjamin at the time.
Jean-Marie Benjamin dedicated his life to composing music: classical, soundtracks, popular songs. He moved to Rome in 1975. Thirteen years later, in 1988, he spent a whole year studying theology in a cell in a Dominican monastery. On October 26, 1991 he was ordained a priest.
After some years of intense work with the former Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Father Benjamin moved to Assisi where he created the Tau Production, which is a company dedicated to the production of films like 'The Night of the Prophet.'
We made the film with very little money. Many have worked virtually for free. To produce it, I mortgaged my house. But I thought, "Padre Pio will help us if he approves of the project."
And the theme? "It is the story of a journalist who, in 1948, had to do research on Padre Pio. The camera follows the reporter in his research, which includes scenes of Padre Pio's infancy. The film could not be made in San Giovanni Rotondo, because it's always full of pilgrims. Instead, Benjamin found a village near Assisi." ZE99042601