By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Waiting in the vestibule, a small group of Catholics from Muscatine and Wilton peeked through glass doors into a packed church. They, like hundreds of others assembled at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, looked forward to kneeling in prayer before three first-class relics of St. Padre Pio.
“I watched his life story on EWTN,” said Colleen Nichols, a member of St. Mary Parish in Wilton. “I just knew I wanted to come.”
On March 27, the Iowa City parish hosted a veneration of the relics. The exhibit included crust from St. Pio’s wounds, cotton gauze with St. Pio’s bloodstains and a lock of St. Pio’s hair. St. Pius of Pietrelcina — better known as St. Padre Pio — was an Italian priest known for his piety and charity as well as the gift of the stigmata. Pope John Paul II recognized St. Pio as a saint on June 16, 2002. He is the patron of civil defense volunteers, adolescents and the village of Pietrelcina. Representatives from the Saint Pio Foundation placed the relics on a table in front of the altar before the 10 a.m. Mass.
In his homily, Deacon Chris Kabat spoke of the saint’s “profound life of intimacy” with Jesus Christ. “These relics that we venerate, we pray for his intercession, asking St. Padre Pio to lead us to Jesus. He told us many times to pray, hope and don’t worry. Give it all to Jesus Christ and then follow his lead. We must strive to give everything to Jesus so we can walk the way he has laid out for us: the road to heaven.”
Deacon Kabat’s wife, Julie, was among the first to approach the display after Mass. Holding back tears, she knelt briefly to pray, then stood and touched her rosary to the relics. “My cousin was at (St. Pio’s) canonization — I didn’t know about him before then. What I’ve read (about him) is just beautiful,” she told The Catholic Messenger. She is inspired by St. Pio’s faithfulness and plans to continue asking for his intercession.
Ahren and Christina Gross attended the veneration with their son, Henry. The family drove to Iowa City from their home in Muscatine. “My husband is hoping to get a connection” to the saint, Christina Gross said. “He’s a fan.”
The word relic comes from the Latin “relinquo,” which means “I leave” or “I abandon.” First-class relics are part of a saint’s body, according to Father William Saunders, author of “Straight Answers.” Second-class relics include pieces of the saint’s clothing or something used by the saint. Third-class relics are objects that have been touched to a first-class relic; for this reason, many Catholics at St. Wenceslaus touched their rosaries to St. Pio’s relics.
In venerating relics, the church is not ascribing to them any magical powers, although they may sometimes serve as occasions of God’s miracles, Father Kenneth Doyle wrote recently in his Catholic News Service column “Question Corner.” More often, “they simply dispose those who view them to strive to live the virtues of that particular saint.”
The display was part of an American tour sponsored by the Saint Pio Foundation. The foundation reached out to Bishop Thomas Zinkula last year about the possibility of hosting a tour stop in the Diocese of Davenport; he asked the Iowa City parish if they would like to host, and they enthusiastically accepted. The parish prepared for the veneration by praying a novena to St. Padre Pio. Parish secretary Kelly Giese said the opportunity to host the veneration was “a precious blessing.”