(ANSA) - San Giovanni Rotondo, January 6 - Plans to exhume the body of Padre Pio, the Italian saint famed for his perpetually bleeding hands and supernatural powers, are meeting vigorous opposition from some of his relatives.
San Pio's niece, Pia Forgione, and her eight children have already begun legal action aimed at stopping the exhumation and a formal court appeal will soon be lodged, it emerged on Monday.
Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio has announced that the body of San Pio - who is still known to devotees as Padre Pio - will be taken out of his tomb and put on display later this year for pilgrims to see and venerate.
San Pio died 40 years ago in September and the exhumation is one of a series of initiatives planned to commemorate the anniversary in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town where he lived, died and was buried.
Francesco Traversi, lawyer for the Forgione family and the head of an association of Padre Pio devotees, said that he and his associates would do everything necessary to prevent the saint's body being ''profaned''.
''(The archbishop) will not succeed in his attempt to re-crucify Padre Pio by putting his remains on display,'' he said, referring to the persecution that the saint's followers say he suffered during his life.
Traversi accused Monsignor D'Ambrosio of acting in a most ''uncivilised'' way and without ''any specific mandate''.
According to the archbishop, permission for the exhumation was given by his ''higher authorities'' and came with the necessary authorisation from the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
'DUTY TO FUTURE GENERATIONS'.
''I am convinced that we all have the duty to allow future generations the chance to venerate the mortal remains of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and to conserve them as well as possible,'' he said during a Mass on Sunday night.
The exact date of the exhumation - expected during the month of April - has yet to be announced. Officials at the provincial chapter of the saint's Franciscan order said they were waiting for a committee of scientists to give their opinion on the best way of protecting and preserving his corpse.
The idea is to put the body on display for several months and then to return it to the tomb in the crypt of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in San Giovanni Rotondo, next to the friary where Padre Pio lived for most of his life.
The saint, whose real name was Francesco Forgione, was born in 1887 and died in 1968. His devotees believe he bore the wounds of the crucified Christ on his hands, feet and side for at least 50 years.
By the time of his death, he was credited by his fellow friars with having performed more than a thousand miraculous cures and other miracles - one of them for the future Pope John Paul II.
The late pope was the driving force behind his canonisation, which took place in record time.
Other alleged gifts were the ability to be in two places at the same time and emit the scent of fresh flowers.
Forgione was shunned by church officialdom for much of his life and only belatedly recognised because of his towering stature among the faithful.
He has massive followings across the world, particularly in Australia and Ireland.
His shrine near Foggia draws close to one million pilgrims a year and generates millions of euros for the local economy. The hospital he founded in San Giovanni Rotondo is one of the biggest in southern Italy.