In 1966, John Lennon scandalously proclaimed the Fab Four were "more popular than Jesus". Some Italians today might be remarking, "Jesus, who?"
A new poll out today reveals that the big man the Italians pray to most -- to smite down a daughter's new marginally employed boyfriend or goose the lottery odds in their favor -- is the bearded monk Padre Pio, not the son of God. Mary doesn't fare much better. Some 31 percent of church-going Italians (when the pollsters ring, all Italians have a 100 percent attendance record) pray to Padre Pio first; just 9 percent turn to the Madonna and 2 percent to Jesus. In fact, Pio beats St. Anthony, the patron saint of flat tires, lost car keys and yes, the lottery.
Pio is clearly riding a Duomo-sized wave of positive PR. After witnessing the canonization of Pio just four years ago, the Committee to Elect Pio has not rested there. They are still an active force, distributing postcard-sized Pio images to delivery van drivers, shopkeepers and football fans. Pio's peeps are everywhere in Rome. If a driver pulls out blindly in traffic, endangering the lives of motorists, pedestrians and stunned onlookers, chances are there will be a Pio dangling from the rear-view mirror, explaining the unexplainable. If your dry cleaner mistakenly mixes up your order, giving your dress slacks to a 5-foot-1 Roman instead, don't expect to find an answer in that crumpled receipt you're clutching. Look instead into the soothing eyes of Pio above the cash register. You don't know suffering, silly straniero. Pio has a stigmata. What troubles do you have?
I am not the only one who finds Pio worship more than a bit disturbing. Father Tonino Lasconi, an expert on saints and religious teaching, told ANSA:
"Despite all their years of religious education our flock is extremely ignorant. They don't seem to realise Jesus and the Madonna are on a different plane".
I plan to use this line at the dry cleaner next time.