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Padre Pio's body to be exhumed, venerated January 07, 2008

The body of Padre Pio will be exhumed and exposed for public veneration during the coming year, the local archbishop has announced.

The plan to exhume the body of the beloved Capuchin saint has already encountered stiff resistance from some of Padre Pio's living relatives, who denounced the plan as "uncivilized."

Archbishop Domenico D'Ambrosio said that the body of Padre Pio would be available for public veneration in 2008, for the 40th anniversary of his death. Each year close to 1 million pilgrims travel to the shrine of the saint at San Giovanni Rotondo.

The timing of the public veneration has not yet been established. Church officials are apparently waiting for expert advice on the exhumation of the saint's remains and the preservation of his body.

But Pia Forgione, a niece of Padre Pio, has initiated legal action to stop the exhumation. In an appeal to an Italian court she argued that the archbishop does not have proper authority to put the saint's remains on public display.

Archbishop D'Ambrosio said that his plan has the approval of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He explained that he saw a "duty to allow future generations the chance to venerate the mortal remains of St. Pio of Pietrelcina." Part of the reason for the exhumation, he said, is to ensure proper preservation of those remains. Padre Pio, who lived from 1887 to 1968, gained an international reputation for holiness during his lifetime. Thousands of people reported miracles after meeting with the famous monk, who apparently enjoyed extraordinary spiritual gifts including the stigmata and discernment of souls. The reports of miracles attributed to his intercession multiplied after his death, and devotion to Padre Pio continued to spread.

Padre Pio was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002, with an estimated 2 million people attending the Vatican ceremony.

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