A Personal encounter with the incorrupt heart
I LEARNED about Santo Padre Pio during the Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas (Laiko) Pilgrimage to Italy in October 2012 on the occasion of the canonization of San Pedro Calungsod, the second Filipino saint. After that long flight from Manila, we landed at Fuimicino Airport around 1:00pm. We immediately boarded a tourist bus and travelled to San Giovanni Rotondo in Southern Italy, enjoying the scenery in the bright sunny afternoon, sleeping every now and then during the long travel. After almost seven hours, we finally arrived at the hotel, ate late dinner and slept the night. We ate early breakfast, then proceeded to the Sanctuary of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (also called Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church or the Shrine of St. Padre Pio) and the Church of Our Lady of Grace (Santa Maria Delle Grazie).
We had Mass presided by Bishop Jesse Mercado of Paraňaque, then the Spiritual Director of Laiko and the Chairman of CBCP Episcopal Commission on the Laity, attended by thousands of pilgrims from other countries. I considered myself blessed to be selected by the Capuchin friar to be the lector/reader during the Mass; and also had the opportunity to sing the offertory song “Panunumpa” by Carol Banawa, with our Filipino tour guide.
It was that day in October when I had my first encounter with Padre Pio. It was in that Church of Our Lady of Grace, where every wall is golden, magnificent, brilliant, glorious, where I saw and venerated the incorrupt body of Padre Pio. The silence in the chapel, despite the many people inside, queuing to touch the glass encasement where the body of Padre Pio is. Our tour guide told us that the chapel was constructed through the donations by mostly Filipinos. Then, we proceeded to the rooms where Padre Pio stayed during his lifetime, the confessional box and the many big baskets containing the 2nd class relic (Padre Pio’s clothings), where the pilgrims can get as many as they want so that they can promote Padre Pio in their countries. I gave some of them to my family members, friends and relatives.
It was really a very heartwarming experience when you touched the relics and the things which Padre Pio touched during his lifetime. After almost 6 years, for the first time I got the opportunity to visit the Shrine of Padre Pio in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. I planned to visit the Shrine two years ago, but was not able to go there. Then last year’s plan did not also push through. Then, on the eve of the Feast of San Padre Pio last September, on the occasion of the centenary of the appearance of stigmata (5 wounds of Christ) on Padre Pio, my dream was finally realized. I was able to pay a visit to Padre Pio, the very first Shrine of Padre Pio I visited after my first encounter with him in San Giovanni Rotondo.
Then, last October 05, the Incorrupt Heart Relic of Santo Padre Pio arrived in the Philippines and had scheduled visit at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) and the Manila Cathedral. I promised to Padre Pio that I must see him again, touch him and kiss him now that he visited the Philippines. Thanks to Fr. Jesus Miranda, Jr., Ms. Giovanna Fontanilla and Ms. Michaella Lagniton of the Office of Public Affairs of UST, for granting my request to allow the Social Communications Group of the Diocese of Kalookan to cover the visit of the Incorrupt Heart Relic of Padre Pio. Due to the many people at Plaza Mayor hearing Mass, we were not able to touch and kiss the relic. We were happy that we were prayed over and blessed by the Incorrupt Heart Relic through Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, presider in the Welcome Mass.
Since the Relic will be at Manila Cathedral for less than three days, I again promised that I will have my second encounter with Padre Pio, and I prayed hard to him to allow me to touch and kiss him again. However, it seemed impossible considering the ten of thousands devotees queuing for 5 to 6 hours to touch and kiss the Relic; I even decided to go to Manila Cathedral between 2am to 3am. I told Fr. Romy Tuazon, parish priest of Sta. Cruz in Tanza, Navotas, Diocese of Kalookan to accept the invitation of Msgr. Clem Ignacio, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Manila, to concelebrate with him during the 6am Farewell Mass. When he said yes, I know we will be able to venerate the relic. So, at 4am that Thursday, we proceeded to Manila Cathedral. There were no traffic, no long lines outside the Cathedral, no queues inside, though there were many people praying, some taking pictures near the Altar. We proceeded to the Altar, only the portrait of Padre Pio was there, surrounded by fresh white flowers but no relic beside it. I looked at the left side portion of the Cathedral where to relic was for the last 2 days, no relic either. My dream seems to crumble when the ushers told us that the veneration was stopped at 3am to prepare for the 6am Farewell Mass. Oh no! It cannot happen, Padre Pio would not allow it. I prayed to Jesus and to the Immaculate Conception to allow us to venerate the relic of Padre Pio. Then, a short teen-aged boy approached Fr. Romy and asked if he is a priest (Fr. Romy was in his clerical outfit); he told Fr. Romy to go to the sacristy. Flory Tiongco (Fr. Romy’s PPC officer), Rene (his driver) and I went with Fr. Romy and waited at the sacristy where another priest was praying. We said our prayers; I prayed hard that I can kiss the relic.
Minutes before the Mass, the Franciscan Capuchin friars walked into the sacristy one by one: first the one carrying the metal base, the second carrying the top cover (roof) of the reliquary, the third carrying the Reliquary with the Incorrupt Heart Relic. Everyone was silent, one could hear the sound of the proverbial dropping of the needle. I was ready with my cellphone to take pictures. Then the third friar placed the Incorrupt Heart Relic on top of the reliquary and once there, I felt I was struck, frozen where I stood, motionless, in awe at seeing the relic right in front of me. The priests were allowed to venerate the relic first; I was so star-struck that I was not able to take picture of Fr. Romy venerating the relic; it was good, Rene did. We fell in line, allowed the ones in wheel chair to venerate the relic first. When I touched the Relic and kissed the base, I felt at peace. Thank you God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate Conception for making my dream come true, to have the second encounter with Padre Pio. Thank you Padre Pio, you granted my prayer to venerate, touch and kiss you.
During the Farewell Mass, Msgr. Ignacio blessed all of us Mass goers and our love ones with the Incorrupt Heart Relic of Padre Pio. Then, the Capuchin friar thanked the Filipino people for the devotion to Padre Pio for staying in long lines for so many hours, either under the heat of the sun or under heavy rains, to venerate the relic. The Mass goers were again blessed by the Capuchin friar with the relic.
It is the Feast today in our Chapel. Happy Feast of Nuestra Seňora Dela Paz y Buen Viaje.