More than 500,000 pilgrims are arriving in Rome for the canonization of Padre Pio da Pietrelcina (Francesco Forgione) on Sunday. Large-screen video displays have been installed outside the basilica of St John Lateran and along the Via della Conciliazione, running from St. Peter's Square down to the banks of the Tiber River for those unable to get into St Peter's Square. One of the most loved figures in the Catholic church of the 20th century, Padre Pio spent nearly all his life in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. Born in 1887, Francesco was one of eight children of Grazio and Maria Forgione. A very devout child, from an early age he felt drawn to the priesthood. He became a Capuchin novice at the age of sixteen and received the habit in 1902. Francesco was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 after seven years of study and became known as Padre Pio. During the First World War he was called up for military service, but went absent without leave and never returned to duty. His superiors sent him to the friary of Our Lady of Grace at San Giovanni Rotondo. On September 20, 1918, Padre Pio was kneeling in front of a large crucifix when he received the visible marks of the crucifixion. The doctor who examined Padre Pio could not find any natural cause for the wounds. Upon his death in 1968, the wounds were no longer visible. In fact, there was no scarring and the skin was completely renewed. He had predicted 50 years prior that upon his death the wounds would heal. The wounds of the stigmata were not the only mystical phenomenon experienced by Padre Pio. He had an odour about him described by many as similar to that of perfume or flowers. He was also said to have had the gift of bilocation. Padre Pio had the ability to read the hearts of the penitents who flocked to him for confession which he heard for ten or twelve hours per day. Padre Pio used the confessional to bring both sinners and devout souls closer to God; he would know just the right word of counsel or encouragement that was needed. At times he would be unsympathetic, if he detected pride or lack of intention to amend. A model priest, Padre Pio would say: "I love my spiritual children as much or even more than my own soul." "If one of my spiritual children strays I will leave my flock and seek him out." "Once I take on a soul I also take on their family as my spiritual children." Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968 at the age of eighty-one. His funeral was attended by about 100,000 people. He was beatified in 1999.
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