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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Padre Pio Granted Sainthood

Aired June 17, 2002 - 07:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Three hundred thousand gathered in St. Peter's Square over the weekend, there to witness the rise to sainthood of Padre Pio, a friar who bore the stigmata, that is the marks of crucifixion. Alessio Vinci now live from Rome with more on this enormous gathering this weekend -- Alessio, hello.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF: Hello, Bill -- good morning to you. Well, to better understand the spiritual power of Padre Pio, one had to look at the massive turnout yesterday in St. Peter's Square, and it wasn't an easy day for them. Temperatures raised to up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. More than 100 million bottles of water were distributed to pilgrims there. At some point, even the pope thanked the pilgrims for enduring the heat and the long ceremony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI (voice-over): A crowd only a handful of rock stars today could manage to gather in one place at once. The canonization of Padre Pio on Sunday in St. Peter's Square, led by Pope John Paul II, has been dubbed one of the biggest religious events in the history of Rome. Padre Pio is big, in part because he lived recently and died only in 1968.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a saint, who is modern, and who lived in our modern times like the mass media and stuff. And he is a symbol for what Catholicism can be, because he is a saint for all.

VINCI: There are countless Web sites dedicated to Padre Pio. There is a radio and television station named after him. In souvenir shops, his face is everywhere.

When he was alive, hundreds of thousands of people would visit his convent in southern Italy, seeking his blessing and confession.

JOHN ALLEN, "NATIONAL CATHOLIC" REPORTER: And I think his devotees feel this is man who understands their pain, and then through the miracles responds to it.

VINCI: But it was perhaps the stigmata that made him one of the most popular figures in the Catholic Church. He bore wounds on his hands and feet, similar to those of Jesus Christ when he was crucified, a man said to be so close to God, he too could perform miracles. BOB KAISER, VATICAN ANALYST: The stories go on and on and on, dating all the way back to World War II when the allied bombers were hovering over his town. And they wouldn't bomb the town, because they kept seeing cloud formations that had a monk in the cloud. They could plainly see a figure of a monk in these clouds, and they wouldn't bomb.

VINCI: Two recent miracles, a woman healed in 1995 and this young boy two years ago, cleared the way to his sainthood.

(on camera): Padre Pio did not become a saint because of his stigmata. The Vatican actually never officially recognized him as having receiving the Christ-like wounds. A commission of non-Vatican experts is now working full time, searching for proof.

(voice-over): But whether that recognition will come or not, Padre Pio has always been and will always remain a saint in the hearts of his followers. All the pope did on Sunday, they say, is to officially recognize what they had believed in all along.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI: Another extraordinary aspect of this canonization, Bill, is that it is rare to find in the history of the church a pope who has actually met the man who he has elevated then to sainthood. Pope John Paul II met Padre Pio back in 1947, when he was a simple priest in Poland. At that time, the future pope studied here in Rome, and he did go to San Giovanni Rotundo, where the convent of Padre Pio is, and he did receive a confession by Padre Pio. And there is a story that goes that Padre Pio back then predicted that Karol Wojtyla was going to become pope. Something, however, the pope has always denied -- back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: Interesting twist there. Thank you, Alessio -- Alessio Vinci again reporting live in Rome.

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