LOWELL, Mass. — Hundreds of people came to a Massachusetts church on Wednesday for a glimpse of the glass-encased heart of a celebrated Roman Catholic saint, the first time the religious relic has left Italy.

Many of the faithful who filled Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell to see the heart of St. Padre Pio clutched rosaries.

Janet Black, from Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood, was moved nearly to tears.

“I’m all full of emotions,” Black told The Sun of Lowell. “It’s just beautiful that people could come together for one purpose. If the world was like this, we’d have no problems.”

Honoring the relics of saints is an ancient practice in the Roman Catholic faith.

St. Padre Pio was a Capuchin friar best known for possessing the stigmata, or wounds of Jesus Christ. He died in Foggia, Italy, in 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

The Rev. Nicholas Sannella of the Immaculate Conception Church said being near the relic is a way to be closer to a saint who is already with God.

“Padre Pio, he embraced the very core of our faith,” Sannella said. “He embraced harmony, forgiveness of sins, he spent his life in the confessional and he was a model for many of us.”

The relic was scheduled to be on display at St. Leonard’s Church, in Boston’s North End later Wednesday; at the Archdiocese of Boston’s pastoral center in Braintree on Thursday; and at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston on Thursday and Friday, which is the saint’s feast day.

“We know that many people throughout our country have a great devotion to Padre Pio, so the friars have made this possible especially for those who are not able to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy to venerate his relics and pray for his intercession,” Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said in a statement.