The beatification of the famed Capuchin monk and stigmatist, who died in 1968, drew an enormous throng which overflowed St. Peter's square onto the Via de la Conciliazione toward the Tiber River. Tens of thousands of pilgrims who could not find a place near St. Peter's gathered in the plaza outside the basilica of St. John Lateran, watching the ceremony on giant video screens and awaiting Pope John Paul, who visited the site after the beatification ceremonies.
The "invasion" of Rome began later last week, as 5,000 cars, dozens of buses, and 20 special trains brought people into the city. A fleet of 250 vans shuttled pilgrims from remote parking areas to the Vatican, while a new shuttle ferry on the Tiber-- opened for the weekend, prior to its formal inauguration in June-- slightly eased the snarled vehicular traffic.
In his homily at the beatification ceremonies, Pope John Paul said that the enormous crowd was a sign that "the reputation Padre Pio, that son of Italy and of Francis of Assisi, has spread across every continent." The Pontiff also recalled that he himself had met with Padre Pio, when he was a student in Rome. He said the life of the Capuchin monk was "a constant exercise of faith," and that his rigorous ascetical practices helped Padre Pio toward "progressive identification" with Jesus Christ. "The people who came to San Giovanni Rotondo to participate in his Mass, to ask for his counsel, or for confession, found in him a living image of the suffering and resurrected Christ," the Pope said. He said that the stigmata-- a rare mystical gift, "often accompanied by much misunderstanding"-- was a sign and proof of the monk's identification with Christ.
During the ceremony-- which was attended by a number of Italian leaders, including President Oscar Scalfaro and Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema-- the huge congregation broke into applause and waved banners after the Pope formally pronounced the beatification of Padre Pio. The excitement and enthusiasm of the participants, constrained by the solemnity of the ceremony, tested the readiness of Rome to receive the millions of pilgrims who are expected to arrive during the Jubilee Year. By Monday, May 3, most observers pronounced the test a success. City organizers observed that the traffic was mitigated by the fact that many native Romans had left the city for the weekend.
After the ceremony, the Pope traveled across Rome by helicopter to join with the pilgrims at St. John Lateran, and lead them in praying the Regina Coeli. There he delivered another call for an end to the warfare in Kosovo, asking the faithful to pray "more intensely" for peace.
Noticias Eclesiales reported in Church News that the Pope's words to the pilgrims gathered at Saint John Lateran Square clearly emphasized the importance that the Capuchin friar had in filial love to the Mother of Jesus during his entire life, pointing out that the teachings and example of Padre Pio "particularly urges us to love and venerate the Virgin Mary."
"His devotion to the Virgin," the Holy Father stated, "shines in each manifestation of his life: his words and writings, his teachings, and the counsels he gave to his numerous spiritual children." The Pope recalled through touching words how the new Blessed was never tired of inculcating the faithful a devotion to Mary, devotion that was "tender, deep and rooted in the genuine tradition of the Church."
"He always encouraged, in the confessional as well as in predication: Love the Virgin!" who also talked about the special devotion of Father Pio to the rosary. "At the end of his earthly life, in the moment when he manifested his last will, he thought of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as he had done during his whole life: 'Love the Virgin and make her loved. Always pray the Rosary.'" ZENIT International News Agency reported that the celebration that John Paul II enjoyed in the beatification of Padre Pio, the "friar of the stigmata," was shadowed by sorrow and concern for the war. When the ceremony ended, the Pope went to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran to meet the faithful who had come to Rome to participate in the celebration, but who found no room in Saint Peter's Square or the adjacent avenues. At Saint John Lateran he referred to the Kosovo war.
"My thoughts return again to Yugoslavia, and my love embraces all those who are suffering and dying there."
The Holy Father said: "I raise my voice again to implore, in the name of God, that this attack by man against man come to an end, that the instruments of destruction and death be stopped, that all channels of aid be activated to help those who are obliged to leave their land in the midst of unspeakable atrocities. That dialogue be renewed, with the intelligence and creativity that God has given man to resolve tensions and conflicts, to build a society based on the respect due to every human person."
The Pontiff not only referred to the Kosovo war, but also to Africa, "the continent which is bloodied by the greatest number of wars." "The power struggles, ethnic conflicts and indifference towards others are literally suffocating it."
The Holy Father requested "each diocese to promote prayer during this month of May, so that from the Church a common invocation to the Blessed Virgin will rise so that in the Balkans, on the African continent and in all places of the world builders of peace will emerge who, forgetting their particular interests will be ready to work for the common good." ZE99050206
The Reconciliation March included about 50 Christians from the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand who are meeting Palestinians and Israelis in the region whose forefathers were killed during the Crusades. "Exactly 900 years ago Christians visited this land with a sword and a spirit of vengeance in a manner contrary to teachings and character of Jesus," said Mike Niebur, the group's Israel coordinator.
The group has visited Jewish communities along the Rhine Valley and in Lebanon and Turkey that were attacked by Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land and will end its journey on July 15 with a march from a Crusader fortress in northern Israel to Jerusalem. Niebur said that the imprint of distrust and violence perpetuated by the memory of the Crusades can be traced through the Spanish Inquisition and even the Holocaust. "We hope we will start to end that legacy and start on a new track," he said.
The plan proposed by Catholic Action was presented by professor Antonio Papisca, an expert in international relations at the University of Padua. Professor Papisca invited everyone to take part in a march for peace from Perugia to Assisi, which will take place on May 16.
"The situation must be handled under the direction of the United Nations, through the Security Council and by the convocation of an emergency session of the General Assembly." It must be followed "by the return of the refugees and the calling of an international peace conference to define Kosovo's status."
According to Papisca, unless there is a return to the United Nations in handling international situations, there is a risk of "deregulating" norms or acting as though the latter are non-existent, which would affect the international balance.
At present, there is "a poorly orchestrated plan allowing world equilibrium to be established at the price of the Yugoslavian peoples' blood. There are those who are determined to create a new international balance in the economic realm, so the flames of nationalism are fanned in order to diminish the U.N.'s power."
Luigi Bobba, ACLI's president, said that "in order to propose this plan, a strategy of a democratic world order must be established in which the use of force, for policing purposes and not military action, is reserved exclusively to the U.N." ZE99050202
Meanwhile in Rome, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray warned against resignation to violence when he published an article in which he calls for an end to the Kosovo War and warns against passivity in face of the arms clash. The Cardinal laments the fact that until the very end of this "brief century" the "signs of death" continue to be evident.
"The last events of the end of this millennium, leave no way out. As a perfidious companion on man's journey, violence continues to pursue him to the threshold of the new age, as though it is determined to suffocate or suppress a change of direction," the Cardinal wrote.
In Cardinal Etchegaray's opinion, the Kosovo war is a warning that the hopes for peace will follow a most difficult path of adversities and efforts of all kinds.
"The lightening of war blinds the sight of the future, so that the passage into the new millennium might well turn out to be the simple turning of the pages of the calendar."
Faced with this situation, where arms express the "inhuman consequence of the inability to dialogue," Cardinal Etchegaray called for an awakening of conscience and the need to ask ourselves if "we should be resigned to continue into the new millennium with the weight of hatred and enmity which paralyzes our progress."
He responded by energetically opposing this attitude. "The time has come to say once more, loudly and solemnly: 'Enough!' As the Holy Father has done in the name of Christ and of the whole of humanity, moving united -- beyond the pages of the calendar -- toward the horizon of the third millennium."
The Cardinal contrasted this pilgrimage of faith to the painful march of the Kosovo refugees. "The bitter pilgrimage of these brothers of ours is evidence of how violence goes against the direction of history and of the hopes of men. It is exactly opposite to the civilization of love which could be and, indeed, must be, the sign of the new millennium." ZE99050201
The enthusiasm for the late pontiff's cause has been redoubled in the wake of an announcement that on April 22, doctors commissioned by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced that there was no scientific explanation for the cure of Sister Caterina Capitani, whose gastric hemorrhage suddenly stopped after was blessed with a relic of John XXIII. A commission of theologians will now study the healing. If they pronounce it miraculous, the way will be clear for the beatification.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has already proclaimed that the man born as Angelo Roncalli lived a life of "heroic virtue." That determination was ratified by Pope John Paul II, fulfilling one crucial condition for beatification. The official recognition of a miracle would fulfill the other key condition.
The cause for the beatification of John XXIII was introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1965, after the close of the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, Paul VI also introduced a cause for the beatification of Pope Pius XII.