An Italian business magazine is claiming that the shrine dedicated to St. Padre Pio has become a bigger attraction than Lourdes, now that the saint’s body has been put on display.
ANSA reports that Economy magazine says the number of annual visitors to the southern town of San Giovanni Rotondo will increase to nine million. The projected total will make the town the world’s second most popular destination for religious tourists, behind only the Vatican.
Pilgrims to the shrine at Lourdes usually number eight million per year.
Economy magazine calculates that Padre Pio’s shrine will bring $185 million in revenue from sales of souvenirs, two periodicals, a satellite TV station, and pilgrims’ offerings to the otherwise impoverished region.
Padre Pio, a Capuchin friar, was credited by his fellow friars with more than 1,000 miraculous cures and interventions. In 1910 St. Pio began to bear the stigmata, the wounds that Jesus received from his crucifixion. Church authorities were skeptical of the reputed miracle worker until his death in 1968. He was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.
The saint’s body was exhumed by Capuchin friars in March and was considered to be in surprisingly good condition. The body, whose face is now covered by a lifelike silicon mask, was to be displayed for just a few months.
However, due to demands from millions of devotees, the body will be on display until September 2009. It will then be returned to the crypt of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in San Giovanni Rotondo, next to the friary where Padre Pio lived for most of his life.