News / World

Saint's heart goes on display for 1st time outside Italy

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, right, prays in front of the box containing the corpse of Saint Pio da Pietralcina laid in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The heart of the celebrated Roman Catholic saint is being publicly displayed this week - the first time the religious relic has left Italy. Hundreds of the faithful are expected to line up Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, at the Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, for a glimpse of the heart of St. Padre Pio. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, right, prays in front of the box containing the corpse of Saint Pio da Pietralcina laid in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The heart of the celebrated Roman Catholic saint is being publicly displayed this week - the first time the religious relic has left Italy. Hundreds of the faithful are expected to line up Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, at the Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, for a glimpse of the heart of St. Padre Pio. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

LOWELL, Mass. — Hundreds of people came to a Massachusetts church on Wednesday for a glimpse of the glass-encased heart of a celebrated Roman Catholic saint, the first time the religious relic has left Italy.

Many of the faithful who filled Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell to see the heart of St. Padre Pio clutched rosaries, even though the relic was difficult to view through its largely opaque container.

Janet Black, from Boston's Charlestown neighbourhood , was moved nearly to tears.

"I'm all full of emotions," Black told The Sun of Lowell. "It's just beautiful that people could come together for one purpose. If the world was like this, we'd have no problems."

Honouring the relics of saints is an ancient practice in the Roman Catholic faith.

St. Padre Pio was a Capuchin friar best known for possessing the stigmata, or wounds of Jesus Christ. He died in Foggia, Italy, in 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

The Rev. Nicholas Sannella of the Immaculate Conception Church said being near the relic is a way to be closer to a saint who is already with God.

"Padre Pio, he embraced the very core of our faith," Sannella said. "He embraced harmony, forgiveness of sins, he spent his life in the confessional and he was a model for many of us."

The relic was scheduled to be on display at St. Leonard's Church, in Boston's North End later Wednesday; at the Archdiocese of Boston's pastoral centre in Braintree on Thursday; and at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston on Thursday and Friday, which is the saint's feast day.

"We know that many people throughout our country have a great devotion to Padre Pio, so the friars have made this possible especially for those who are not able to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy to venerate his relics and pray for his intercession," Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley said in a statement.