.- Marking the first time the statue has ever left its sanctuary in Bethlehem, the original wooden sculpture of the "Little Child" Jesus was brought by its guardian, Fr. Jerzy Kraj, to the Sanctuary of St. Giovanni Rotondo on Thursday. During its visit, the statue will be taken to the children's cancer ward of a hospital founded by St. Padre Pio.
"With immense joy," announced the Capuchin Minor Friars among whom Saint Pio lived, "we will live here, in San Giovanni Rotondo, a 'great event of faith.' "
"We’ll live again the profound devotion of Padre Pio," they exclaimed in an official release for the arrival of the baby Jesus figure.
According to friars, "the idea of this initiative was born during a pilgrimage to Bethlehem guided last October by... (the) rector of the sanctuary, in memory of the profound devotion of Padre Pio of Pietralcina for that which he called 'the divine Infant.'"
After clearing the idea with the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, plans were made for the pilgrimage.
The statue arrived by helicopter on Thursday afternoon to be welcomed by the Capuchin superiors and the mayor of San Giovanni Rotondo, later it was taken to Our Lady of Grace Shrine, where a Eucharistic celebration was held.
From Jan. 28 to Feb. 6, the "original and sacred statue of the Little Child of Bethlehem" will be in, and around, the Our Lady of Grace Shrine at San Giovanni Rotondo.
At least six official pilgrimages are planned by area parishes and schools while the sculpture is there.
The statue will also be taken in for a night at the Convent of the cloistered Capuchin Clarisse Sisters on Jan. 31, and on the night of Feb. 3 it will be at the House for the Relief of Suffering, the hospital founded by St. Pio. On its way back from the "House" to Our Lady of Grace the next morning, it will be taken through the pediatric oncology wing of the hospital, which is named after Pope John Paul II.
After a solemn Mass on the evening of Feb. 6, the statue will be take to Rome and then back to Bethlehem the next morning.
The statue was made in Olot, Spain in 1921 for the sanctuary in Bethlehem.