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Thousands turn out as remains of Padre Pio go on display in the Vatican

A friar touches the box containing the remains of St Pio in St Peter's Basilica. Picture by AP

THE embalmed body of Padre Pio has been paraded through the streets of Rome as part of events to mark the Catholic Jubilee Year.

The remains of the Catholic venerated Italian friar - who died almost 50 years ago - wearing a silicone mask were taken to St Peter's Basilica to be blessed by Pope Francis.

The body of St Pio was moved from its resting place in a sanctuary at San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy last week.

The remains of another saint, Leopold Mandic, a Croatian Capuchin, was also brought to Rome to be put on display.

As their remains were brought through Rome, thousands of onlookers cheered and took pictures.

The remains of the two saints, which were brought to the Vatican at the request of Pope Francis, will be on display in climate-controlled crystal coffins at St Peter's until February 11.

The two saints were celebrated for their skills in receiving confessions - a quality Pope Francis wants to champion during the Jubilee year.

Padre Pio, who is popular in Ireland, is held in high regard due to claims that before his death, he was able to cure the sick.

He suffered from the stigmata phenomenon - body marks corresponding to the wounds Jesus Christ received during his crucifixion - according to biblical accounts.

Padre Pio's legend was further enhanced after his death when, his body was exhumed from his crypt to be put on display in 2008 and was believed to have been found in good condition.

However, his face was partially reconstructed using a silicone mask used in wax museums because it was apparently too decomposed to show when the body was exhumed.

He was regarded with suspicion by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, but was admired by Polish pope John Paul II who canonised him in 2002.

Speaking over the body on Saturday, Pope Francis described Pio as a "servant of mercy".

"He did so full-time, practising, at times in exhaustion, the apostolate of listening," he said.

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