It happened yesterday. I’d heard it from my sister and my husband read about it in our church’s bulletin. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina’s relics were going to be present at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan.
“Padre Pio” as he was commonly referred to in his home country of Italy was a priest and a friar of the order of the Friars Minor Capuchin. He became known then, not without igniting controversy, for exhibiting stigmata during most of his life. Stigmata is a term used in Christian Mysticism to describe the manifestations of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.
I decided I was going to make the trip to San Juan. My husband was not so sure. Relics are a complicated subject, and I am not qualified to argue in favor or opposingly about our Catholic practice of venerating them. But I was respectfully curious.
My husband almost did not make it. He insisted for me to join my sister and my mother, but they had already left for the church without me. I said it was OK, and sarcastically added that I was perfectly capable of driving 30 miles to the basilica when taking medication for my ear infection. He knew what I meant so he drove us over there letting me know he had previously scheduled tasks. I told me there would be plenty of time to do them later.
We got there at about 3:30 in the afternoon pleased that the crowds were not as large as we anticipated. We walked into the church and met my sister who advised us to get behind a short line to see the three small wood tabernacles containing Saint Pio’s relics. About 500 people were at the church. Some in line while others sat on the benches reciting the holy rosary that could be heard through the church’s loudspeakers.
When I reached the altar, the parishioner holding one of the tabernacles leaned it over my head and blessed my family and me on behalf of God and Saint Pio. I wish I could remember the exact words for they were beautiful. But I don’t. The excitement of the moment and wanting to take photos distracted me. I should have not attempted to take photos, but you know how that is especially when the rest of the family is not present and you can’t wait to share the experience.
We sat there until the praying of the rosary ended. We walked behind the altar to light a candle to Our Lady of San Juan. I cherish visiting her often. We said our prayers and walked away to our car.
The drive back was during rush hour when the highway is packed with hungry and tired drivers. My husband is a menace driving his sport’s car. He enjoys driving fast causing me severe anxiety. I am usually tense warning him of every passing car provoking his anger. But not this time. This time I could barely stay awake. I felt light and my focus was somewhere far away. I was thinking about the events that had just transpired. The relics. What were they? Is this natural?
I remembered my husband’s face and his teary eyes after receiving his blessing. I sensed a spiritual rattling. For a while, he did not want to move from his seat and said he would join me later at the candle altar to the Virgin. Like me in the car, he seemed to be somewhere far away. Back in the house, he said something I hardly hear from him. “There was something unexplainable happening this afternoon right?” he asked. “I felt a strong spiritual presence that almost made me cry.” I noticed the word almost.
That night I slept deeper than ever before. Our family, we have been going through stressful times for more than a year. Uncertainty and anxiety have overwhelmed me more often that I would like, and even though I am a good sleeper, this time my sleep particularly peaceful and deep.
“Pray, hope and don’t worry…” Saint Padre Pio