MANILA - Plaza Roma in Intramuros is usually quiet on ordinary nights, but it was bustling with people late evening this Tuesday.
Long, winding queues stretching for several kilometers all led inside a chapel of beautifully-lit Manila Cathedral, where the heart relic of Padre Pio was laid for public veneration.
Police estimated the crowd volume at 7,000 as of 11 p.m.
Most of the people eagerly waited for their turn, some waiting 4-5 hours just to have an intimate moment with the relic.
The Catholic faithful believe touching and kissing the relic will bring them miracles. Worldwide, Santo Padre Pio is known as a powerful intercessor of healing of illnesses.
Jessica Europeo, who has been a devotee of Padre Pio for more than 10 years, brought with her a laminated photo of the Padre, a gift from her sister-in-law. The photo was special because it was bought from Pietrelcina in Italy, the hometown of Padre Pio.
Aside from good health for her family and children, she also prayed for the country.
"Ipagdasal buong bansa, sana malampasan natin ang hirap na dinaranas natin ngayon," she said.
Jessica learned about the relic's visit to the country thru news reports. The Philippines is the fourth country, after US, Paraguay, and Argentina, to be visited by the relic. It arrived at NAIA late evening last Friday, aboard a Qatar airways flight.
Prior to the Cathedral, the relic has already attracted scores of devotees at the National Shrine of Padre Pio in Santo Tomas, Batangas and the Santisimo Rosario Parish inside the University of Santo Tomas.
Inside one of the Manila Cathedral's chapels, Padre Pio's heart lies encased in a glass case, adorned with flowers. The mood inside the chapel is very solemn. Unauthorized taking of photographs is forbidden.
Devotees venerate the relic by kissing, praying, or wiping their handkerchiefs on the glass. The process lasts a maximum of 10 seconds before the devotee is ushered out.
It may seem short, but the experience can be overwhelming.
For Sonia Imus, just getting inside the chapel despite the long lines is already a miracle.
She said she went to the Cathedral with 4 of her friends, straight from the Regina Rica chapel in Tanay, Rizal.
"Hindi ko masabi emotion ko. I pray na sana yung katangian, matularan namin. Matularan ko," she said.
Asked what she prayed for, Imus said she prayed for peace. "Lalo na sa Philippines, sana magkaroon ng strong faith among the Filipino people para sa ating bansa."
For many devotees, the visit of the relic is a welcome respite from the many issues the country is facing today.
The public veneration and the massive crowd it attracted form a magnificent showcase of piety for a relatively new saint of the Catholic Church.
Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio died in 1968 and was canonized by then Pope and now Saint John Paul II in 2002. When his body was exhumed in 2008, Church officials found out that his body did not decay. His remains are now at the San Giovanni Rotondo Sanctuary in Italy.
The relic will be toured in Visayas and Mindanao and back to Batangas before it departs back to Europe.
The visit is brief but for the Catholic community, the rare experience to see the relic firsthand will always be a cherished memory.