Foggia/San Giovanni Rotondo 20-21.6.2008

Fougg’! That’s how Foggia is called in Foggia:) That’s about the first thing I learned while in… Foggia:)
Foggia is about as far from Lanciano as Lanciano was from Rome, but this time I traveled south instead of east (there was no more east to travel to, anyway:). In Foggia I met Gigi, my friend from the good old Ressu high school times when we did a cultural exchange with a high school in Angri, near Naples, Pompei, Salerno… that was 2003 and so it was 5 years ago that I last saw Gigi…

Gigi is studying medicine in Foggia but he goes back to Angri every now and then to see his family. But he can’t stay there for long because Angri makes you angry hahaha well no that was just a running joke from the cultural exchange… Anyway here we are, good old friends reunited.

On the 20th Gigi took me around Foggia. Some of the funnier things that happened was the Finnish flag they were selling (among others though of course) while I was wearing a Suomi-t-shirt, and a grandfather in a church that congratulated me for being taller than his grandson:D And despite my t-shirt he asked me where I came from, and when I answered he said ”no, where do you come from” – apparently a Finn couldn’t possibly find himself in Foggia… and well it happened again when I called my friends in Rome about the accommodation. First someone was told someone is calling from Foggia, and then that it’s me, and so he told me ”allora tu non chiami da Foggia” (so you’re not calling from Foggia [- you’re the Finnish guy]!)… :)

In the evening we visited a Neapolitan friend and had a great time (as always with Neapolitans;), got to listen to a lot of some wonderful Neapolitan and what made it even better was that there was a football game going on (Turkey-Croatia which ended dramatically in Turkey’s favour). We also met some other Foggia friends and at the end of the evening I entertained them with some magic tricks.

In the morning I had to put the famous ”Fuggi da Foggia” (Flee from Foggia) into practice and took a bus to San Giovanni Rotondo, the famous and huge sanctuary of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, the great 20th century Italian stigmatist and Capuchin (Franciscan) Friar. You can read more about him here, or here (the local bookshop):

I’ve read a biography of Padre Pio by German Lutheran pastor Ruffin, called Padre Pio (The True Story). It’s very good and recommendable, and the fact that it’s by a Lutheran makes it better not worse – the approach is very appropriate and it’s very readable. So I was eager to see all the places I’d read about in real life, and much of them I did see. Here is Padre Pio’s confessional.

Some of the documented facts about Pio’s confessions include the ability to read hearts – he sometimes told the penitents their sins before they even confessed them and the ability to understand confessions and give advice in languages he didn’t know at all – one penitent exclaimed ”he speaks perfect German!” after a confession, but Pio didn’t speak any German. Actually he spoke the best language – Neapolitan!!!!;)

He was such a popular confessor that the queues were long and intense – sometimes there were fights and one woman even got a big trauma from the ”pie donne” or pious ladies that were always wanting to be near Pio – someone actually threatened to kill another person for jumping the queue for confession… talk about perfect contrition. People would also try to cut pieces off Pio’s habit (the religious vestment) as he passed by, and all kinds of little stupid things were being sold and/or distributed for popular religiosity such as cloth dipped in animal blood claiming to be relics of Pio’s stigmata. Yes, it’s crazy, but it testifies to one fact: there must’ve been something extraordinary about this man.

This is the Church Santa Maria delle Grazie where Padre Pio used to say Mass. People flocked into his Masses and found it extremely spiritual, they really sensed Christ’s presence and so wonderful it was both for them and especially for Pio that his Masses could and did easily take hours. Actually his last Mass can be viewed on youtube. The well documented stigmata disappeared from his hands a bit before his death and there is no sign of them anymore.

The interior of the same church. But as you probably realise by now, the flow of pilgrims after his death in 1968 has been so enormous that there was soon a need to build a new church, a huge modern church for the Masses for the masses:) The new sanctuary is where I too went to Mass and also confession downstairs where there was a whole special hall with a lot of doors with confessors.

Then there was the Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza. This is a religious hospital initiated by Padre Pio – an immense project of charity, actually a miracle. It is now the second best hospital in Italy. The goal is to take good care of the body but also the spirit – have a look at these pictures to see how professional medicine and devotion come together.

Then there was the exposition of the body of Padre Pio. I visited at an opportune time because from March till December his body is exposed for veneration now that it’s the 40th anniversary of his death. Unlike some cases where saints’ bodies have been found miraculously preserved (See eg the book ”The Incorruptibles), Padre Pio’s body was injected with formalin prior to his burial and after the exhumation a silicon mask was put on his partially skeletal skull. There are different opinions on this exposition, but here it is.

In the biography I read that Padre Pio laughed at the idea of his becoming a saint. He said that if they make him a saint, everyone coming to him asking for a favour must first of all bring him a crate of macaroni, and then he will grant the favour:D Well I told him I was sorry for not bringing a crate of macaroni with me, perhaps he’ll be my friend since we share the same sense of humour:)

After seeing the body I also got to see the crucifix in front of which he received the stigmata, a huge bookshelf full of his letters and his room, all behind glass though, naturally. Then I spent some time praying in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (which was, unfortunately, less popular than, say, a statue of Padre Pio in the tourist/pilgrim centre area) and reading, and at around 5 pm my bus to Rome arrived. I got my luggage from the surveillance room – there was no ”deposito bagagli”, I asked some cleaners where I could leave my luggage, they said the surveillance room but there they didn’t agree. After some debate they consented and started asking where I was from and wishing a nice day.

…fino al tramonto ti chiamo… sunset on the way to Rome from the bus window. I arrived in Rome around 11 pm and witnessed the end of Russia-Holland in the ELIS student residence with some old friends and fans of Kimi Räikkönen (there was a rumor that the second cousin of Kimi Räikkönen (that’s me) is coming to the residence for a night;). In the morning a new phase of the trip awaited me: the eternal city and its adventures:)

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