Uproar over Vatican plan to control shrine funds

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The Independent Online

The shrine of Catholicism's most popular modern mystic, Padre Pio, is convulsed in controversy after the Vatican announced that a bishop would take control of the site and its earnings. More than 7 million pilgrims visit the tomb of St Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy every a year.

The shrine of Catholicism's most popular modern mystic, Padre Pio, is convulsed in controversy after the Vatican announced that a bishop would take control of the site and its earnings. More than 7 million pilgrims visit the tomb of St Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy every a year.

The cult of the Capuchin Franciscan friar who was said to have carried the stigmata of Christ, bleeding from hands, feet and side, for 50 years has turned the village into Italy's most booming town.

The mystical friar died in 1968, aged 81, and was canonised last June. Since his death, his shrine, a hospital he founded and the gifts and money donated by millions of devotees have been managed by his fellow friars. But in the Cathedral of Manfredonia, a few miles east of San Giovanni, Monsignor Domenico D'Ambrosio said on Sunday, during his installation as the diocese's new bishop, that he and a 100-strong committee would manage the Padre Pio sites and fortune.

The Vatican is known to have been unhappy at what it regards as excessive commercialisation of Padre Pio's image.

The reaction of the friars was swift and bitter. Gian Maria Cocomazzi, the chief friar at San Giovanni, said during Mass on Sunday: "It seems they are reviving the persecution that Padre Pio suffered."

He said the true reason for the move was that a hospital founded elsewhere in the diocese by Padre Pio had run out of money.

The Pope's press spokesman said yesterday that the friars would still have charge of the shrine, but the archbishop had "the right and duty of vigilance over pastoral activity".

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