The part-glass coffin of Father Pio
Particular saints had different gifts during their lives but each had slightly different ones. After death the bodies of some saints could be preserved, which does not mean that the saint whose body was not deteriorated is holier than other.
The display of Fr Pio’s body is to make the cult of this Saint easy and to make it even more vivid. And this is the only purpose. In a few days’ time, on 24 April, the part-glass coffin of the body of the known Italian stigmatic will be displayed. The event attracts much attention and people from all over the world phone San Giovanni Rotondo to reserve a date to enter the crypt of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Over 120,000 people have phoned the place so far. The Internet forums have been packed with comments as well, ‘I would appreciate your kind answer what is the purpose of the saints’ exhumations.’ ‘May some deeply believing person answer me what the saints’ exhumations are for, the saints that were normally buried.’ ‘The so-called saints’ bodies do not decompose since they are not people but some cyborgs. How can they deteriorate?’, the internauts write.
The subject is vivid but controversial and this does not concern Poland. The Association ‘Pro Padre Pio’ in Turin informed the public prosecutor about a crime situation, demanding that the public display of the relics was cancelled because they regard it as a case of the body’s profanation and sacrilege. What does the Church say about it?
Love and not the condition of the body should be taken into account
An exhumation of a saint’s body is ‘an expression of love, worship and tenderness. It is not a case of profanation and it does not incline the faithful to new sacrifices’, says Bishop Domenico D’Ambrosio, papal delegate for the shrine of Fr Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo.
The guardian of the local Capuchin monastery Fr Aldo Broccato said after the exhumation that it was a ‘sign of faith in the communion of saints and the resurrection of the body’. However, it does not mean that the untouched condition of the body is a sign of sanctity of a given person. What’s more, an exhumation is not necessary to begin a canonization process but it only serves to recognize the remains and eventually take them as relics. ‘Sanctity is a supernatural reality whereas deterioration of the body is something normal’, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, explained on the Vatican radio. The condition of the remains of those who were pronounced saints has nothing to do with their sanctity.
‘Particular saints had different gifts during their lives but each had slightly different ones. After death the bodies of some saints could be preserved, which does not mean that the saint whose body was not deteriorated is holier than other’, explains Rev. Professor Jozef Naumowicz from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. Sanctity is expressed by great love and faith and not by the condition of the body. Although we need material signs in our faith and their existence is very helpful.
One should also remember that a saint is only a mediator on the way to God and not the aim of the cult itself. We need saints so that we can ask God through their intercessions. ‘The public display of Fr Pio’s body is to make it easier and to revive the cult of the Saint. And this is the only purpose of the display’, claims Rev. Dr. Gabriel Bartoszewski, the promoter of the faith during many canonisation processes.
After 40 years
The tomb of Fr Pio, for the first time after his funeral, was opened on the night of 2 March 2008, after 40 years. It occurred that the body was well preserved and the upper part of the skull is in ‘the skeleton condition’ and the lower part: the cheeks and jaws in a ‘fair’ condition. One can see his elbows, hands in gloves, nails. Now the remains will be displayed in public as his relics.
Rev. Dr. Gabriel Bartoszewski, promoter of the faith during many canonisation processes.
What does the untouched saint’s body testify to? Well, to nothing! It has no influence on sanctity, which always concerns the soul of a given person. Naturally, during life the human body participates in penance practices, it is sanctified and then takes part in resurrection. But if it happens that some body was not deteriorated after death, as in the case of Fr Pio, you can take relics from it. They can serve religious purposes, make prayers easier and revive piety. Since people receive many graces praying at the relics. It is also an attempt to preserve the remains for the future generations.
Rev. Prof. Jozef Naumowicz, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, an expert in early Christianity
The cult of relics has been known in the Church since antiquity. It even preceded the worship of holy pictures. We know that the first Christians gathered at the graves of the martyrs and saints, made pilgrimages to their places and worshipped them. The first big basilicas were built on the sites of the martyrs’ graves. Since then we have placed the relics in the altarpieces because saints’ lives and deaths were connected with the Sacrifice of Christ. One should remember that the cult of relics is relative, i.e. it does not refer to the body itself but to the person of a given saint and through the saint it refers to God. The visible remains of saints or the objects connected with saints refer to the invisible. So we do not worship relics themselves but we worship what they are and what they express.