SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy (Reuters) - The body of one of the most popular Roman Catholic saints, the mystic monk Padre Pio, began an overland journey in a crystal coffin on Wednesday to go on display at the Vatican.
The Capuchin monk who died in 1968 and is said by the Catholic Church to have had the "stigmata" - the bleeding wounds of Jesus on his hands and feet - was exhumed in 2008 in San Giovanni Rotondo, the small, southeastern Italian town where he spent most of his life.
His body was partially reconstructed with a life-like silicone mask and preserved in a large, temperature-controlled glass reliquary so the faithful could view it.
Pope Francis wanted the body of man who spent most of his life hearing confessions and who was declared a saint in 2002, to be displayed in St. Peter's Basilica during the Catholic Church's current Holy Year on the theme of mercy.
But not all of the locals in this small town whose economy revolves around the pilgrim trade were happy that the saint was going on the road.
"Personally for me it is a sad day," said Auro Mizza, one of the hundreds of people who turned out to see the coffin off, many of them with tears in their eyes. "A saint doesn't go on pilgrimage, it is the others who go on pilgrimage to the saint."
The shrine draws close to a million people yearly.
The body, along with that of another, less famous saint that is being transported to Rome from northern Italy, will be displayed in a Rome church before both are moved in procession to St. Peter's on Friday. They will return to their regular locations later this month.
Many people said the brown-robed Padre Pio was able to predict events in their lives and knew what they were about to confess. There are thousands of "Padre Pio Prayer Groups" around the world.
Padre Pio was dogged during his life and even after his death by allegations that he was a fake but Church investigators cleared him each time.
(This version of the story has been refiled to fix typo in lead)
Reporting by Gabriele Pileri, writing by Philip Pullella Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.