San Giovanni Rotondo

Most everyone knows about Italy’s “boot.” Few know that the “heel” of this boot is the region known as Apulia or Puglia, located on the west coast of southern Italy. San Giovanni Rotondo is a small town at the top of the heel, located about 100 miles west of Naples on the east coast of the country. The two largest nearby cities are Foggia, the capital of the province of the same name that is about twenty miles away, and Manfredonia, about ten miles away.

The Shrine of Padre Pio is located in San Giovanni Rotondo and is an important Catholic pilgrimage site. In spite of the relatively brief history of the Shrine of Padre Pio it is, in fact, the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world—the first is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The history of the Shrine of Padre Pio in southern Italy is quite recent, dating back only to the life of the Capuchin priest and mystic, Padre Pio, who was born Francesco Forgione in 1887 and died in 1968. He became a priest in 1903, and arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916. He remained here until his death 52 years later.

Padre Pio was revered for his devoutness, spiritual gifts and abilities (including stigmata, visits from Christ and the Virgin Mary, prophecy, and miraculous healings), and his care for the poor and sick. In 1956, he opened the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering) Hospital. Whether you believe in the miraculous aspects of the history of the Shrine of Padre Pio or not, this hospital is today one of the most respected modern medical facilities in Europe. In 1962, Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Poland, who would later become beloved Pope John Paul II, wrote to Padre Pio asking him to pray for a cancer-stricken friend. Later, without medical explanation, the cancer regressed. In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio, and more than 500,000 people attended the ceremony. The Pope himself dedicated the very modern Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, which can accommodate 6,500 seated worshippers and 30,000 standing outside. in 2004. More than seven million pilgrims per year make the trip to visit the Shrine of Padre Pio in this little town in Italy, and there are more than 50 hotels that have been recently built to accommodate the throngs. The pilgrimage site offers shopping at several hundred souvenir stalls, a restaurant, toilets, and other comforts for visitors.

Located only fourteen miles east of the Shrine of Padre Pio is another, much older, Catholic shrine—Santuario di San Michele Arcangelo, the Sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel. It is in the town of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano, and is a sacred cave where the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared twice in the fifth century and once in the seventeenth century. The Shrine of Padre Pio is open daily and admission is free. There are good highways if you’re driving, and trains arrive in Foggia daily from Rome, which is about 180 miles away There is bus transportation as well as train service from Foggia, and the journey takes about 60 minutes.

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