ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - The public is invited to attend the dedication of a statue of Padre Pio, a 20th century saint, on the grounds of St. Agnes Church Saturday, Sept. 23, at 8:45 a.m.
The statue, which stands four feet high and is situated on a pedestal on the South Avenue side of the property, will be the third shrine on the St. Agnes outdoors complex, and when the area is completed, will include a bench for quiet medication. The new statue is the second of the popular saint to be included in the parish. The first is situated at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Highlands, in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help shrine at the back of the church nave.
“We are blessed and grateful to have this statue as a gift from a man who has been strongly affected by the saint and who has dedicated a good portion of his life towards spreading increased devotion and further knowledge of the priest who died on Sept. 23, 1968, “said the Rev. Fernando Lopez, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes parish.
The donor, Vito Faraci, is a Long Island resident who is a frequent visitor to St. Agnes Church when he comes to the Bayshore to visit his daughter, Maureen. Faraci, who is expected to attend Saturday’s ceremony, tells a moving and miraculous story beginning when he first learned about Padre Pio, shortly thereafter meeting a man who was miraculously cured by the saint’s intercession, and his own journey to the saint’s birthplace in San Giovanni Rotundo in Italy.
“Our dedication of a Padre Pio shrine is also quite timely,” Father Lopez said, explaining that a group of parishioners is leaving in mid-October for a two-week trip to Europe which includes a visit to Padre Pio’s home town and the church where he worshipped. The trip is being led by Msgr. Cajetan Salemi, a retired priest who says weekly mass at the parish’s two churches. “what better place to meet and begin a journey from their hometown to Padre Pio’s home town than a shrine at their own church dedicated to him?” the pastor said.
Born to poor but religious peasant farmers in southern Italy in 1860, the second of five children, Padre Pio, whose original name is Francesco Forgione, became a Capuchin friar at age 15, suffered numerous illnesses during his life and was known to exhibit several supernatural phenomena, drawing crowds to know him and flock to his church. He established a hospital, served in the Medical Corps of the Italian Army during World War I, and died at age 81 in 1968. He was canonized a saint and numerous miracles have been attributed to him.
Faraci relates that a series of coincidences drew him to Padre Pio devotion, beginning with finding a pamphlet on the saint while cleaning out his attic in 1971. The pamphlet included a story about Joey Lamongeno, a Brooklyn neighbor Faraci did not know, who had been blinded and lost his sense of smell but received assistance from Padre Pio and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the Saint. Faraci felt drawn to the story and had a strong feeling he had to meet Lamongeno. He did and followed his former neighbor to the numerous talks and programs Lamongeno gave of his own encounter with Padre Pio. “I did not see any miracles directly,” Faraci said, “but I certainly heard from people who had experienced them.”
The encounters led Faraci to make his own pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio’s church and burial site. Since then, Faraci, a retired electrical engineer who teaches mathematics at a Long Island college, has purchased several statues to donate to churches interested in spreading information about Padre Pio.
The statue is reconstituted marble statuary, a replica of original work produced by technological advances in polymers and resin mixed with crushed white Carrara marble dust to make a paste which is then poured into a master mold and later smoothed by hand to remove any imperfections. The result is a statue with fine detail and great tolerance to all kinds of weather.