Saturday, 16 January 2010

Pope Benedict and the Holy Face of Manoppello Part 2

Anyone unfamiliar with the Sanctuary of the Holy Face should realise that the Veil, which is kept under glass, is of a material so fine as to be almost transparent. It can therefore be viewed from both sides which explains what happens in the video.

The veil is believed to have been in Manoppello since 1506 and was donated to the Sanctuary in 1638. Our Holy Father's visit was the highlight of 500th anniversary celebrations which went on all year in 2006. I believe he is the first Pope ever to have visited the shrine.

I've been unable to find other footage of the visit but Joan Lewis gives an outline of the occasion (see link in earlier post). On arrival outside the small shrine Pope Benedict was greeted by a crowd of about 7,000 faithful. In a brief speech before going inside, he told them:

"I see that the Church is a large family. Wherever the Pope goes the family meets with great joy. For me this is a sign of lively faith, of communion and of the peace that faith creates, and I am deeply grateful to you for this welcome." In closing, he revisited and explained his opening perception.

"As the Psalms say, we are all 'seeking the Face of the Lord'. And this is also the meaning of my Visit. Let us seek together to know the Face of the Lord even better, and in the Face of the Lord let us find this impetus of love and peace which also reveals to us the path of our life."

After the Holy Father went into the Shrine, the events shown in the video took place. He was then presented with gifts and addressed the assembly of priests, seminarians and those in consecrated life. Joan Lewis rightly points out, ".....the Pope did not state - nor has the Church - that the icon (?*) is indeed the face of the Saviour". (*my question mark). No, he did not, but as usual drew a deeper meaning and taught a deeper lesson. (You can read his entire address by googling 'Pope Benedict XVI Speeches'. Choose the site of the Holy See and when you reach it, click and scroll until you come to September 1st, 2006.)

Here are extracts from the first paragraph:
"First of all, I must once again say a heartfelt 'thank you' for this welcome............for the expression of your friendship and for the deeply meaningful gifts: the Face of Christ venerated here, for me, for my house,.................... I simply want to thank the Lord for today's simple family meeting in a place where we can meditate on the mystery of divine love, contemplating the image of the Holy Face."

Then comes a hint perhaps that the visit had not been widely publicised. in accordance with the Pope's express wishes. He thanked those present for "the dedication and discretion with which you have supported my private pilgrimage, which nevertheless as an ecclesial pilgrimage cannot be entirely private."

The clergy and religious present were then especially thanked and given a beautiful message.
"You are people whom I like to think of as in love with Christ, attracted by him and determined to make your own life a continous quest for his Holy Face." This struck a deep chord in me, because it is how I 'like the think' of Pope Benedict himself.

Having been unable to find footage of this speech being delivered, I cannot know how much was read from a script and how much was an extempore departure. However, the Holy Father goes on: "During my pause for prayer just now, I was thinking of the first two Apostles who, urged by John the Baptist, followed Jesus to the banks of the Jordan River........." He then spends a further two pages, in fact the majority of his address, expounding to them the details of his own meditation before the Holy Face. It is an astounding privilege to know and learn from what the Holy Father was thinking as he gazed at the Manoppello image. I implore you to read it in full but will allow myself one final quote here. In reference to the Psalmist's 'clean hands and a pure heart', our Holy Father said, "Clean hands, that is a life illumined by the truth of love that overcomes indifference, doubt, falsehood and selfishness; and pure hearts are essential too, hearts enraptured by divine beauty, as the little Teresa of Lisieux says in her prayer to the Holy Face, hearts stamped with the hallmark of the Face of Christ.
Dear priests, if the holiness of the Face of Christ remains impressed within you, pastors of Christ's flock, do not fear: the faithful entrusted to your care will also be infected with it and transformed."

The immediate effects of the Manoppello visit are in the Holy Father's own words and behaviour. And the influence of both, mark his Pontificate in a most unambivalent way. In the next post on this subject I'll look at the subsequent and consequent effects of his visit on the shrine at Manoppello itself, and also at some recent research discoveries concerning the veil image, as reported in the ITV article which inspired this series of posts.

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