Sunday, June 15, 2003

A rehash and update on the Padre Pio conflagration

The sun is baking a square full of pilgrims when Pasquale Mangiacotti decides to sfogarsi, which is basically what a volcano does when it lets off steam.

"These vagabonds don't believe in Padre Pio," says Mangiacotti, referring to the group of young Capuchin monks who run the sanctuary of Italy's most popular modern saint. "They don't even believe in heaven."Mangiacotti, who spent more than 20 years at Padre Pio's side before the saint's death in 1968, has pilgrims looking at him curiously as he fumes at the monks, calling them "a gang of half-wits," "delinquents" and, again, "vagabonds."

"They used to call me Padre Pio's little orphan," says Mangiacotti, 67, dressed in his uniform as custodian of the sanctuary's "Way of the Cross" outdoor site, a job he says Padre Pio gave him. "My whole life is in this sanctuary. Now, I'm ashamed to even go near it."....

One of those welcoming the bishop was Mangiacotti, who has a long list of complaints, including the monks' removal of outdoor washrooms for tourists and transforming the sanctuary into "a big store."

But what makes him and other pro-Vatican residents especially livid is the monks' plan to move the saint's body from its tomb in the sanctuary to the new church being built some 300 metres distant.The residents have started a letter-writing campaign to the Vatican, hoping the Pope will nix the reburial plan when, as expected, he forwards new orders to the Capuchins, who still run the sanctuary's daily operations."We will never let them touch Padre Pio," says Mangiacotti, as a member of his group passes out leaflets near the sanctuary, urging the faithful to block any bid to move the body.