Stet by Ria Bacon

Friday, January 07, 2005

Padre Pio ©®$™@$

When I visit other offices here at work, it's surprising how many people have religious pictures around them. Some are large-sized prints of a demure Mary and child floating in the stars with bright beams of light radiating from their edges. Back-lighting always does wonders for a woman, I think.

The most common image, however, is of Padre Pio. He's everywhere in Italy and in every form. Even Italian lorry drivers are ditching topless pin-ups for more spiritual reminders of the afterlife. Perhaps a wise idea when you consider driving habits in Italy.

The Vatican marketing department has obviously taken a leaf out of Disney's "brand everything" philosophy, so that you can collect Padre Pio stickers, babybottle holders, plastic cups, scratch 'n' sniff cards. Ok, I made that last one up, but the range of products at my corner kiosk is a lot more than the traditional books and videos on offer at Catholicshopper. I guess the Vatican needs to crank up the money-making machine to pay for their recent legal costs in California.

I'm not going to tell the story of Padre Pio: see here for a pro account and here for the sceptic's view. For my own part, I waver between fascination at what is a wonderful anthropological example of a belief system in full force, and head-shaking pity for the obvious exploitation of people's fears and credulity.