.- The hundreds of pilgrims who each year visit the Italian village of San Giovanni Rotondo to pray to Padre Pio will now be able to do so in the second largest church in the world, which is dedicated to the Italian saint and was consecrated today.
With a Mass concelebrated by 10 Cardinals, 120 bishops and 500 priests, the new Church of St. Pio opened its doors for the first time to the vast number of visitors who travel to the small Italian village each year.
Surpassed in size only by St. Peterâs Basilica at the Vatican, the new church that has knocked Londonâs St. Paulâs Cathedral into third place was designed by the famous architect Renzo Piano and can seat more than seven thousand people in its interior and more than 30,000 in the square outside.
Construction began 10 years ago in response to the need to welcome pilgrims who come each year to visit the tomb of the Italian saint.
An estimated 40,000 people were expected to attend todayâs ceremony.
The church is built in the form of an oval, with 21 arches and a 1600 square-foot window, with currents made from a special fabric designed by NASA.
The interior was decorated by Italian artists Domenico Palladino, Giuliano Bangui and Arnaldo Pomodoro, who designed the bronze cross which hangs above the main altar.
More than 320 stone blocks and 332,000 square feet of concrete were used in the construction. The cross built outside the church reaches 131 feet, and more than 1,500 trees were planted in the area around the square. Inside, the organ is made up of more than 7,000 pipes.
Devotion to Padre Pio is widespread throughout Italy. The three Italians who were recently kidnapped and freed in Iraq traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo to express their gratitude to Padre Pio for their release.