They arrived Monday morning inside an orange Samsonite suitcase tucked into the trunk of a small sedan.
Only after Luciano Lamonarca, their keeper on the current United States tour, slipped on a pair of white gloves and carefully picked away the bubble wrap was the identity of his cargo apparent: the famed relics of Saint Padre Pio, one of the most revered saints on the planet.
“I don’t like when people take the relics and put it to the heart,” said Lamonarca, revealing his Italian mother tongue, as he chatted with Rev. Bob Lojek, pastor of St. Francis Borgia on the Northwest Side, where the relics on Monday made the first of two Chicago stops.
Lamonarca said that while they don’t discourage the faithful from touching the relics, he worries they could be damaged if people pick them up.
Lojek and a cadre of church volunteers were sometimes called upon to remind some of the faithful to rein in their affection for the superstar Italian saint, who died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002.
“Just a reminder: Don’t kiss the relic, just touch. Please, no kissing,” Lojek said, addressing a line that stretched from the altar down the aisle and out the door.
During their two-day stay in the city, the relics — a lock of hair, some cotton gauze stained with Padre Pio’s blood, his friar’s cloak, a glove, and a crust of the saint’s wounds — were expected to draw thousands.
Where the line began, a range of keepsakes for sale greeted the visitors — everything from a $3 Padre Pio prayer card to a “large” $130 “I absolve You” statue.
The relics also will be displayed from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Ita Catholic Church, 5500 N. Broadway.
Padre Pio, a charismatic friar who mixed with people from all walks of life, was said to leak up to half a liter of blood each day — a sign, say the faithful, of his connection to the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross. He also had the ability to “bi-locate” — to step out of his body and perform miracles in distant locales, believers say.
On Monday, some believers touched rosary beads to the relics, others knelt before them. And then there was Lesya Drevnytska, a native Ukrainian who now lives in Chicago.
“I’m a very religious person,” said Drevnytska, clutching a scuffed Ziploc baggie crammed with rosary beads, prayer cards and little booklets about Padre Pio.
Hoping that some of the saint’s famed mystical power would rub off on the contents of her bag, she pressed it to the front and back of each relic.
“I pray for all the wounded soldiers. Also, I pray for peace in the world. I pray for the sick and all my relatives who don’t believe in God,” said Drevnytska, claiming the saint had previously cured her migraine headaches.
Others came seeking help with stiff joints, sick children and diseases that had not responded to medicinal remedies.
Ida Cassata, 62, came from Arlington Heights to see the relics. Tears welled as she spoke about the hope that her “special needs” granddaughter might get help from Padre Pio.
After standing before the relics, she said she felt something stir inside her.
“You feel a sense of … something just overcomes you. … It’s like God,” she said.