(Pastor of St. Theresa Maronite Church, Brockton MA)
My trip to Turin, Italy, was to stand before and pray to God before the so-called “Holy Shroud” of Turin. For those of you who do not know what this is, let me explain. A “shroud” is a burial cloth. It can be made of various materials; in the case of the Shroud of Turin, artfully woven linen. It belongs to the Vatican, but has been housed in the Catholic Cathedral of Turin since the 16th century.
Many people believe that this linen cloth, measuring over 14 feet in length, is the actual cloth used to wrap the body of Jesus after his being taken down from the Cross and buried by the Jew, Joseph from Arimathaea, who, tradition tells us, gave his own tomb for the burial. The Gospel of Luke tells us in Chapter 23, verses 52 and 53 that Joseph wrapped the body in a shroud and placed the body in the newly carved-out tomb, just before the Sabbath day began on the evening of Great Friday. Because of the Law of Moses for the Sabbath, the body could not be properly washed and have spices applied to it on Friday evening. Thus, when the women from Galilee arrived at the tomb early Sunday morning to finish the burial ritual, the body was not there: only the linen and head piece used to bury Jesus rather hurriedly on Friday.
This linen shroud is what is being displayed in the Cathedral at Turin. Some say that after all is said and done, the Shroud is a medieval fake, a forgery. To millions of Christian believers, it is the real thing. I am convinced it is real. You may read many details about the Holy Shroud at: http://www.shroudstory.com/.
I have been intrigued by the Shroud for many years. I have done a lot of reading about it, including the famous 1979 book by Ian Wilson, The Turin Shroud: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? This book is quite dated, especially as so much more scientific investigation has been done on the Shroud, but reading it got me seriously interested in it. Yet, I was not convinced of the Shroud’s authenticity until very recently, with the latest tests. Without going into details, which can be easily obtained, I fell into the believer camp.
For many reasons, the Shroud is not displayed to the public frequently. The last time was ten years ago. Thus, when in conjunction with a trip I was planning to Europe on holiday, I discovered that the Shroud would be shown this year, in the Season of the Glorious Resurrection, I decided to include a stop in Turin, on pilgrimage. This I did on 15 April. The Shroud event organizers indicated on their web site that over a million visitors were initially expected, and that tickets, free for the reserving, would be needed. Times were also scheduled. I selected my time (in order to dovetail with the rest of my journey), and I downloaded the ticket, printed it out and booked a flight.
I stayed about 20 minutes by train outside of Turin, in a little town named Chivasso. Since I arrived in Turin earlier than expected, I was able to enter in an earlier session. Ironically, with all the check points leading to the entrance, no one ever looked at my ticket. In addition, I inquired where I could store my small, carry-on luggage, and, to my surprise, I was allowed to take it into the cathedral! (I guess I don’t appear to be the terrorist type, bomb in bag.) A very helpful video greeted pilgrims, indicating areas to look for (blood stains on face, hands and feet, side of torso), position of the body—front and back views, of course—and other details. Then people were allowed in.
The Shroud is behind glass (I must presume bullet-proof) and lighted from the back. You cannot get closer than 15 feet away. Yet you can clearly see the faint image on the cloth; but only in the negative can the details be observed. Thus, I was so glad I had done all that reading over the years, including seeing the image in the negative. You cannot take photos (reaction to light?); nevertheless, many, many web sites do a good job of showing the image. I did have a staff lady snap my picture in front of the many images of Christ made throughout history. Here I am in front of an image from the 6th-century Syrian Rabboola Gospel book in the hall leading up to the entrance.
The session allows you to stand in front of the Shroud for about 10 minutes. Prayers are recited in different languages in a very quiet and meditative atmosphere—shall I say “awe”? I said a prayer for all who asked me to, especially for my blood family and my parish family.
In the spirit of the Celebrant’s Concluding Prayer of our Liturgy, I observe that “I know not whether I will be able to return” to see the Shroud ever again, but I was able to this time, and it was truly an awesome and inspiring experience.
(The Shroud is on display from April 10 to May 23, 2010. Read Pope Benedict's reflection on his visit to the Shroud.)