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Pilgrims loot Rome homes ‘to pay for Padre Pio trip’

They travelled up to Rome from Puglia to see the remains of Italy’s beloved saint, Padre Pio...but instead they broke one of the 10 commandments.

Pilgrims loot Rome homes 'to pay for Padre Pio trip'
A monk prays in front of the exhumed body of mystic saint Padre Pio. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

‘Thou shall not steal’ was clearly the furthest thing from the minds of the couple from Bari when they decided to loot two holidays homes and flee without paying the bill for their stay.

All this after supposedly seeing Saint Padre Pio’s body, which is on display in Rome until February 11th after being temporarily moved to the capital from a town in Puglia last week as part of the Holy Year, or Jubilee of Mercy, celebrations.

The couple were arrested on Sunday afternoon, allegedly carrying bags of stolen goods from the two properties they rented during their stay, Il Messaggero reported.

And they clearly seized on the “mercy” theme of the Holy Year in an attempt to atone for their sins, asking a court on Monday to show them leniency because “they needed the money to pay for their Padre Pio pilgrimage”.

Padre Pio’s 50-year-old corpse was transferred from San Giovanni Rotondo last week, with thousands of pilgrims lining the streets as the body was brought to Saint Peter’s Basilica on Friday.

His remains, which were exhumed from a crypt and given a facial reconstruction in 2008, were blessed by Pope Francis on Sunday.

Pio was revered during his lifetime (1887-1968) and his popularity has continued to grow since his death, particularly in Italy, where mini-statues and pictures of the mystical Capuchin friar are ubiquitous.

Canonized under Pope John-Paul II, Pio's brand of popular, mystical Catholicism was less popular with the Vatican authorities when he was alive.

He regularly recounted having experienced both heavenly and diabolic visions, other clerics claimed to have witnessed him levitating in ecstasy and he was frequently associated with apparently miraculous recoveries among the seriously ill.

From the age of 31 until the end of his life he regularly presented with stigmata – body marks corresponding to the wounds Jesus Christ received during his crucifixion, according to biblical accounts.

One sceptic wrote a book suggesting Pio maintained his wounds with acid while a prominent doctor theorized that he suffered from a rare form of haemophilia.

While Pio was regarded with suspicion by popes John XXIII and Paul VI, he was admired by Polish pope John Paul II, who confessed to the friar when he was a young priest.

And Francis has further promoted the veneration of Padre Pio, encouraging the creation of prayer groups dedicated to him when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Pio's legend was further enhanced after his death when his body was exhumed and allegedly found to be in remarkably good condition.

There were, however, no signs of any stigmata and his skull had become exposed, which resulted in a silicon face mask being made for him.
 

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PROPERTY

PROPERTY: Should you hire a renovation agency for your Italian home?

If you're renovating a home in Italy, will you need to pay a middleman to cut through the red tape and language barriers? Silvia Marchetti looks at the pros and cons.

PROPERTY: Should you hire a renovation agency for your Italian home?

The idea of snapping up a cheap, crumbling house in a picturesque Italian village may sound appealing – but doing so always comes with tedious paperwork and the hassle of renovation.

For this reason, a growing number of professional agencies have sprung up in Italy to cater to foreign buyers snapping up cheap homes amid the property frenzy.

In many of the Italian towns selling one-euro or cheap homes, there are now ‘restyle experts’ and agencies that offer renovation services handling everything that could become a nightmare: from dealing with the paperwork and fiscal issues to finding a notary for the deed, contracting an architect, surveyor, a building team and the right suppliers for the furniture.

They also handle the sometimes tricky task of reactivating utilities in properties that have been abandoned for decades.

I’ve travelled to many of these villages and looked at this side of the business, too. Hiring these ‘middle people’ comes with pros and cons, though the positive aspects can certainly outweigh the negatives – provided you’re careful to pick the right professionals. 

READ ALSO: Why Italians aren’t snatching up their country’s one-euro homes

These intermediaries are usually locals who have expertise in real estate and a good list of suppliers’ contacts. This allows them to deliver turnkey homes that were once just heaps of decaying rubble, sparing buyers time and money – particularly those living abroad, who then aren’t forced to fly over to Italy countless times a year to follow the work in progress.

I’ve met several buyers from abroad who purchased cheap homes sight unseen after merely looking at photos posted online by local authorities, but then had to book many expensive long-haul flights to hire the architect, get the paperwork done, and select the construction team (a few even got stuck here during Covid).

Thanks to their contacts the local agents can ensure fast-track renovations are completed within 2-4 months, which could prove very useful as the ‘superbonus’ frenzy in Italy has caused a builder shortage meaning many people renovating property now face long delays

Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

Their all-inclusive commission usually starts at 5 percent of the total cost of a renovation, or at 2.500 euros per house independently from its cost and dimension. The fee also depends on the type of work being carried out, how tailored it is and whether there are any specific requirements, like installing an indoor elevator or having furniture pieces shipped from the mainland if it happens to be a Sicilian or Sardinian village. 

However, buyers must always be careful. It is highly recommended to make sure the local authorities know who these agents are and how reliable they are in delivering results.

Town halls can often suggest which local companies to contact, and this gives the renovation legitimacy in my view. In a small village, where everyone knows each other, when the town hall recommends an agency there’s always a certain degree of trust involved and agents know that their credibility is at stake (and also future commissions by more clients). 

Word of mouth among foreign buyers is a powerful tool; it can be positive or detrimental for the agency if a restyle isn’t done the right way, or with too many problems.

READ ALSO: How to avoid hidden traps when buying an old property in Italy

So it’s best to avoid agencies from another village, even if nearby, who come to you offering fast and super-cheap services, or local agencies that are not suggested by the mayor’s office. 

Then of course there can be other downsides, which largely depend on how ‘controlling’ and demanding the client is. 

For those not based in Italy full-time, the most important consideration is: how much can you trust these professionals to deliver what you expect, exactly how you want it, without having to be constantly on the ground? 

Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP

Language can be a major obstacle. There are technical building terms that prove difficult to translate, and if the local agency doesn’t have English-speaking renovation professionals with a track record in following foreign clients it’s best to look for an intermediary with a greater language proficiency. 

I remember meeting an American couple once who got lost in translation with a village agent for days, and had to hire a translator just to hire the intermediary.

It’s always useful to ask for a ‘preventivo’ (quote) with VAT indication, considering roughly how much inflation could make the final cost go up. Buyers should also sign a contract with the exact timeframe of the works and delivery date of the new home, including penalties if there are delays on the part of the agency. 

READ ALSO:

But, even when there is complete trust, I think it is impossible to fully restyle an old home from a distance, contacting intermediaries by phone, emails, messages or video calls only. 

Details are key and there’s always something that could be misinterpreted. Buyers based overseas should still follow-up the renovation phases personally, perhaps with one or two flights per year to check all is going well and up to schedule.

Asking to see the costs so far undertaken midway through the restyle is useful to make sure there are no hidden costs or unexpected third parties involved – like buying the most expensive furniture or marble floor when not requested, or hiring a carpenter to build artisan beds.

While there is really no such thing as a hassle-free renovation, these agencies can ease the pressure and do most of the burdensome work – but buyers’ supervision will always be needed.

Read more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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