4. VISITING THE SANCTUARY
The church of the Capuchin friars of Padua, now better known as the Sanctuary of St. Leopold Mandić, is of sixteenth-century origin. It was rebuilt after being almost completely destroyed in World War II. Its interior is rich with interesting canvases of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Here there is a continuous flow of pilgrims to the tomb of St. Leopold, situated in a chamber adjacent to the church, near the little room in which the saint heard confessions.
The chapel and the tomb of the saint
To the front of the confessional cell of St. Leopold is the chapel where, since 1963, the body of the saint has rested. The red marble tomb is visited by an endless stream of pilgrims, attracted by the spiritual strength of a friend who continues to protect and comfort. Inside the chapel, next to the memorial plaque, is a niche in which a reliquary of the right hand of the saint is displayed, to recall the countless occasions on which he raised this hand to absolve, bless or console.
The painted altarpiece of the chapel, the work of Lino Dinetto, depicts St. Leopold’s mission of bringing souls to the Holy Trinity, through the mediation of Jesus the Redeemer. The priest’s stole and the Franciscan habit worn by St. Leopold recall his service and the gift of his entire existence: the confessor saint is depicted on his knees as intercessor and as a brother who points out the road that leads to intimacy with Christ. On the exterior, above the tomb, the “Light of Reconciliation” burns day and night. The rite of offering of the oil that keeps it burning is renewed every year on 12th May, the liturgical feast of the saint.
The confession room
Here, for around 33 years, St. Leopold passed most of his day in hearing the faithful, administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in silent prayer. It is a small space which has remained as it was from the saint’s time. There is a little chair in which the confessor sat, a kneeler for the penitent, and a cross hanging on the wall, before which pilgrims and the devout kneel in prayer. The presence of the saint can still be felt, and he is always gently welcoming. With him, the faithful continue a never-interrupted dialogue, leaving notes, prayers and thanks on the pages of a large volume placed on a lectern. In one of these volumes, on 12th September 1982, Pope John Paul II wrote his signature, after having stayed a while in this room in prayer. Other original furnishings from this room, along with other articles that belonged to the saint, are displayed in two small adjoining rooms. A plaque on the exterior wall records how during the bombardment of 14th May 1944 the confession room was miraculously preserved, as the saint had predicted: “it will survive as a monument to divine mercy”.
The Capuchin church
The place where the tomb of St. Leopold is to be found is reached via the church, or to be more precise, via the penitentiary, lit by a stained glass window. At the base of this are inscribed the following words of St. Leopold, almost as an invitation to partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to be renewed and transformed in daily life: “The mercy of God is beyond all understanding”. Above any other grace, the saints remind us of the need to ask for “the grace”, that is the experience of the love of God freely given, so that we may feel ourselves to be children of Jesus the Son of God, though the gift of the Holy Spirit who cries aloud in our hearts: “Abba, Father!”.
A visit to the church offers an opportunity to adore the Holy Sacrament in the tabernacle. This is located in the centre of the friars’ choir. The visitor can also contemplate in the intense and finely-carved wooden cross by Luigi Strazzabosco the mystery of redemption and can venerate the statue of Our Lady Immaculate, which survived unscathed the bombardment of 1944. For many years Fr. Leopold celebrated Mass before this statue. On the rear wall, above the bronze door depicting canonised and beatified Capuchins of the Veneto, three altarpieces can be admired. From left to right these are: The Transfiguration (Dario Varotari, XVIIth century), The Glory of St. Leopold, with Our Lady and angels (G.B. Tiozzo, XXth century) and The Coronation of the Virgin (XVIth century)