A woman venerates the relic of the heart of St. Padre Pio at Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell, Mass. The church was the first stop in a Sept. 21- 23 tour of the relic to the Boston area. Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy
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BRAINTREE -- Virginia Fierro met St. Padre Pio back when she was 14 and still living in Italy, and on Sept. 21, she had the chance to venerated his heart.
Sitting in a pew in St. Leonard's Church in Boston's North End, Fierro said she lived in Italy until moving to the United States in 1956, and it was there that she met the saint.
"We talked to him. We saw him just like he is now, with the hands like this," she said, indicating towards a nearby statue of St. Padre Pio with his arms outstretched.
She said a large number of people showed up to see him, but "he talked to everybody."
"It was beautiful," Fierro said.
The heart of St. Padre Pio, the only major relic of the saint to leave Italy, was brought to the Greater Boston Area by the Capuchin Friars that run the Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo.
From Wednesday, Sept. 21 to Friday, Sept. 23, the relic moved around the Archdiocese of Boston, stopping at several different parishes. On Wednesday, it was at Immaculate Conception in Lowell, and later that day it was at St. Leonard's Church. On Thursday, it was at the archdiocese's Pastoral Center and later at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where it remained all day on Friday.
Dalila Patrizzi was the first person to venerate the relic at Immaculate Conception, and was also the first person to publically venerate it during its time in the Greater Boston Area.
St. Padre Pio is "such a special saint, I mean all the saints are special, but this one endured so much, and he stayed, his loyalty, his endurance, his temperance everything, it's very encouraging," she said.
To beat the crowd, she parked her car in the parking lot in the wee hours of the morning and stayed there with her young son, Gabriel, until public veneration began at 9 a.m.
Patrizzi and her son stayed up all night in the parking lot, watching movies and praying to stay awake.
"I think it's been a very special night," said Gabriel.
Amii Stewart, an American disco singer best known for her 1979 cover of "Knock on Wood," attended the night Mass at St. Leonard later that day. She travelled from Italy, where she currently resides, to sing at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in honor of St. Padre Pio.
Stewart, who sang the song "Con Te," written by Catello Milo, at the 2009 reburial of St. Padre Pio, said she didn't learn of him until she moved to Italy.
There, "I also learned about the controversy around Padre Pio where a lot of his fellow priests and monks didn't believe him, so it took him a very, very long time to be looked upon as being touched by God. So, even he himself, he not only had the stigmata, but he also had to deal with people who didn't believe that he was real, that he had been touched by God," she said.
"I think all of us can relate to that in our lives, being looked upon either as having lied for something we didn't do or being blamed for something we didn't do or not being looked upon as being who we really are, and I can only image what he must have suffered and how he must have suffered," Stewart continued.
She said it's "it's very special to me" to be able to be able to called upon to help honor St. Padre Pio, noting that she has been called to sing in honor of the saint "many, many times."
Stewart said someone told her that she's been called so many times because St. Padre Pio wants her to be there.
"And so then I start to question why would he want me to be there? What have I done that's so great, you know, that he would want me?" she wondered.
"So, he must see something in me that I can't see in myself, or I haven't discovered my whole reason for being here, on this Earth, obviously, there must be something else I need to do, and I'm sure he'll reveal that to me," Stewart said.
At the Pastoral Center, Matthew Richer waited in line to see the relic. It was the second time he was waiting in line, as he had brought his four young children with him the first time, and because of that was not able to properly see the relic himself.
Richer said he had shown his children "a movie on Padre Pio last night, so they had a kind of sense of who he was" and what he did.
"Going to see a relic like this is kind of cool, and it's interesting, and it's weird at the same time, so I don't know what to make of it really, it's kind of all those things at once," he said, noting that he would ask his children later that day on what they thought of the experience.
Also waiting in line was Mary Onorato, who was at the Pastoral Center to venerate the relic and pray for her daughter.
"Padre Pio had the stigmata, and my daughter has rheumatoid arthritis and she can't use her hands, so I'm here to pray for a miracle for her," she said, adding that her daughter shares a May 25 birthday with St. Padre Pio.
"In the community of saints, Padre Pio can now intercede for us," Onorato said.