CHELSEA — Henry Voso was “completely anti-relic” for much of his young life. Now, he has relics of all kinds, and prays over other Catholics with relics. The abrupt change came when he was introduced to Padre Pio, a saint canonized just 21 years ago.
Through his devotion to Padre Pio, including personal possession of two second-class class relics of his, Voso has come to truly believe that Padre Pio has been his protection in navigating the world as a clinically blind man, and guided him through life. His Manhattan apartment is full of Padre Pio imagery — statues, framed photographs, and crosses bearing his likeness.
“He’s fought more than one of my battles,” Voso said.
Voso’s devotion to Padre Pio dates back to the early 1990s, when Joe Romeo, a grand knight in the Knights of Columbus, gave Voso, himself a fourth-degree knight, a prayer card bearing Padre Pio’s image. That motivated him to learn more about the saint.
Padre Pio was an Italian Capuchin friar, and his feast day is Sept. 23. He is the patron saint of civil defense workers, adolescents, and Pietrelcina, Italy. He is best known for exhibiting the stigmata, having bled from those hand wounds every day for 50 years.
Voso received the relics of Padre Pio in 2000, on his 40th birthday, from a friend and fellow member of the Knights of Columbus. The gift was an amice worn by Padre Pio — a white linen cloth worn by a priest across his back and shoulders when celebrating the Eucharist. To Voso’s surprise, a handkerchief used by the saint was tucked within the amice.
“It was one of my few silent moments,” he recalled. “I mean, what do you say?”
Though he had always felt a connection to Padre Pio, it was after he received the relics that his devotion to the saint deepened. For two decades, Voso led the Padre Pio prayer group at Our Lady of Grace in Gravesend, where he grew up and was a parishioner his entire life.
Now, after moving to an apartment complex in Manhattan for the visually impaired, he has been involved in a prayer group at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
In a way, both Padre Pio and Voso have unexplainable ailments. Born with hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in the cavities within the brain, Voso’s optic nerve severed around the age of 13. He has been diagnosed as legally blind, and he should be unable to see at all, he says.
He claims that, with Jesus and Mary working through him, Padre Pio is to thank for what he calls his “miracle vision,” or the little eyesight he does have.
“Coincidence is a terrible word, but mystery isn’t much better. But it is a mystery,” he said.
Though he has some sight, he does still use his cane to navigate in the city and binoculars to read.
After 30 years, Padre Pio still brings Voso to joyful tears. He thinks he should know what to expect after all this time, yet when he truly reflects upon the miracles Padre Pio has brought for him, he can’t help but become emotional.
He finds comfort in the knowledge that the saint himself was known for crying. It is at those times, he says, that the saint embodies “the true and complete expression of love.”
Padre Pio has given him hope that he may one day have his eyesight restored, through selection for a clinical trial.
“Jesus said it many times. Your faith has healed you. That’s the truth then and it’s the truth now,” Voso said.