Written by Peter G. Sánchez
Amidst an overcast sky and drenching rain, a new beginning shone bright last Sunday here over Our Lady of Pompeii Church of Saint Padre Pio Parish, newly-decreed as a diocesan shrine to the Capuchin Friar who exhorted all to “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.”
The day’s morning Mass was the culmination of a week-long series of events remembering Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, and Bishop Dennis Sullivan’s recognition of the church as a place of devotion for this much-loved saint is a “momentous occasion in the life of this parish,” said Father Robert Sinatra, pastor and, now, rector of the shrine.
Father Sinatra celebrated the 11 a.m. feast day Mass with his parochial vicar, Father Sungheum John Kim; parish deacon Richard Sampson; Father Fortunato Grottola, Cap. OFM, superior of the Capuchin Monastery in Pietrelcina, Saint Pio’s hometown; and Father Robert Hughes, Vicar General of the Camden Diocese, who read Bishop Sullivan’s decree to the faithful gathered.
“Our responsibility is to conform ourselves to the mission of Christ, as Padre Pio did,” Father Hughes urged during the celebration, sharing with the congregation the life of the man who bore the painful stigmata, the wounds of Christ, for the last 50 years of his life.
“In suffering, Padre Pio reacted with profound humility. God was inviting him to know Jesus intimately, and to be a sign to others of Jesus’ salvation. This shrine will be a light to South Jersey,” where visitors will come to know how to “put faith in action, and witness to the faith,” he continued.
Before and after the Mass, faithful lit candles in front of the altar in intercessory prayer to Padre Pio, and Father Fortunato blessed visitors with relics of the saint brought from his hometown: hair from his beard, and a glove he wore while afflicted with the stigmata. Also at the church, courtesy of Father Fortunato: a habit of Padre Pio’s, and one of his vestments, worn at the morning Mass by Father Hughes.
A mix of individuals from all ages and places braved the rain to be present for the special day.
Laura Lucchesi was one of 50 who traveled by bus from New York that morning, on slick roads, to be there in Vineland. The former president of the Saint Pio of Pietrelcina Society of Staten Island’s Holy Rosary Parish called it the faithful’s mission to “spread the word and actions of Saint Pio, and live the way he did, in humility and fellowship.
Also present on Sunday were young adults from the Catholic Millennial Ministry, out of nearby Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland. Two days before, the group helped lead an evening of praise and worship for young Catholics at Saint Padre Pio Parish.
“It’s been a beautiful, fun week, to enjoy each other’s company,” said one of its members, Eric Leon.
Upcoming activities at the new shrine will include a perpetual novena to Saint Pio every Thursday; a Mass in honor of the patron saint every first Thursday of the month, along with the novena; and the creation of the Patrons of Pietrelcina, a prayer group of lay faithful in accord with the norms established by the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor that will meet monthly to examine Saint Pio’s spirituality and engage in acts of charity.