Making a pilgrimage to the site of a beloved saint is a great privilege and is not something everyone gets the opportunity to do. Msgr. Steven Kachel knows the powerful experience of being in the presence of a saint after a his visit to St. Padre Pio at the San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy.
Msgr. Kachel, pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Onalaska, remembers his once in a lifetime chance to view and venerate before Padre Pio’s incorrupt body. On a trip to Rome a few years ago, Msgr. Kachel and his pilgrim group decided to take a side trip to visit the rotondo. Little did they know that he would see the full body of Padre Pio.
“The rotondo is an incredible place, it’s where he died and was buried and where the hospital he built is still thriving,” he said. “His body had recently been exhumed and it was fascinating to see. Before we went in, they showed a picture of the day he was exhumed. The casket had a glass window on top and, as the casket was uncovered, you could see his face and how, over the past 20 years of being buried, water had leaked into the casket. He was covered in water, but his body was perfect. It was amazing.”
He said seeing an image of Padre Pio in water that should have destroyed his remains and then gazing upon this fantastic incorrupt saint was just remarkable.“As you approach, you can tell his remains are in perfect condition. Imagine being buried for that long and then seeing him look as if he could just sit up and talk to you,” he said. “He had the mark of the stigmata most of his life, but as he died the marks disappeared. When I saw him, his hands were perfect, like newborn skin. I couldn’t get over this miracle.”Msgr. Kachel said previous to visiting the rotondo he didn’t have a lot of knowledge about Padre Pio, but now says he has a great devotion to this great healer.
“I was able to celebrate Mass there. To gaze upon the body and then go into the chapel, you can’t help but think of the glories of heaven.” he said. “He was such a powerful confessor and people came from all over the world to see him. He would tell you your sins if you forgot them, because he cared so much about you he wanted your soul perfectly clean. I became a big fan after I was there.”Though we all may not have such an opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Italy, Msgr. Kachel encourages everyone to make a trip to see the relics at the cathedral.
“I would suggest going to reflect before the relics and remember his identification to be Christ-like, that’s why he received the stigmata,” he said. “His life wasn’t easy, but it was a life where he always tried to emulate Christ and bring that healing to others. That’s the love that God wants all of us to share in. He opened our hearts to experience that great love.”
By Monica Organ