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Italians Gather for Vatican's Declaration of Sainthood for Padre Pio - 2002-06-15

Hundreds of thousands are gathering in Rome for Sunday's canonization mass of Padre Pio, an internationally famous and widely beloved mystic Italian monk.

Padre Pio was a Franciscan Capuchin monk who lived most of his life at a monastery in southern Italy. He was born in 1887. During most of his long life he is said to have carried the stigmata - the bleeding wounds of Christ.

Father Gerardo di Flumeri is deputy-postulator of Padre Pio's canonization cause.

Father Gerardo said he met and lived with Padre Pio and can personally testify to his stigmata. He said he carried the five wounds in the hands and feet and in his side.

He said Padre Pio wore gloves to protect the wounds, and said when he said mass he removed the gloves so that the people attending mass could clearly see the blood pouring from his hands.

Doctors were at a loss to explain the wounds of Padre Pio.

The monk's deep faith and uncomplaining life of pain impressed Pope John Paul II. Padre Pio was also regarded as a healer.

He was beatified in 1999 at a mass in Saint Peter's Square that was attended by a quarter of a million people. His canonization process was confirmed only a few months later with an event that was eventually recognized by the Vatican as a miracle.

It was the extraordinary healing of an eight-year-old boy whose doctors were sure was near to death from meningitis.

Father Gerardo said there was no hope of survival for the boy. His parents prayed every day at the tomb of Padre Pio. Suddenly the boy's condition improved and soon he was out of danger and today he is totally cured.

Padre Pio died in 1968 at the age of 81. Every year since then more than seven million believers visit his sanctuary in San Giovanni Rotondo, the southern Italian town where Padre Pio lived most of his life.