A new church at S. Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia, dedicated to San Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio, will be inaugurated on 1 July at 16.30. The church, commissioned by the Capuchin brothers in the town, which was the final home of the saint has been designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, has taken ten years to build. It has seating inside for 7,000 people and room for a further 40,000 people in the square in front of the church. The principle arch of the building is the largest ever constructed in stone, being 45.8 metres wide and 15.7 metres high.

30,000 people have already booked places for the inaugural service, which will be followed by a performance of the Oratorio for Padre Pio by Ennio Morricone and a firework display.

The town of S. Giovanni Rotondo has a resident population of almost 27,000 and is visited by as many as 8 million pilgrims each year. In 2003, the year after Padre Pio was declared a saint, there was a 30 per cent drop in the number of visitors and it is hoped that the new church will be a boost to the town which has almost 200 hotels and hundreds of bars and restaurants, all relying on the pilgrims for their livelihood.

To book a place for the inaugural service tel. 0882 418302