“A Visit Which Has Opened our Eyes to Once Again Look Upon Jesus”
“Una visita che ha aperto di nuovo lo sguardo verso Gesu”
by Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, S.J.
from the journal Il Volto Santo di Manoppello Vol. XCII, no. 2, December 2006.
Translation by Raymond Frost, University of San Francisco
After a long period of waiting which lasted centuries and centuries a Pope has visited Manoppello for the first time. After only a very brief time following his election to the throne of Peter: Pope Benedict XVI.
And I am convinced that many of his predecessors already had seen the same image when the Holy Face itself was still called the “Veronica” linking it to the legendary tradition and to the popular devotion of a pious woman by the same name who wiped the face of Christ on his way to Calvary.
It is of enormous and beneficial significance that the current Pope has seen with his own eyes and contemplated at length on this image of Christ which was venerated across the centuries as the most important relic of Christianity. Perhaps this most precious object would never have been known by the wider public if the late Father Domenico da Cese, Capuchin friar of the Convent to which the Holy Face was entrusted centuries ago, had not desired that there be an exhibit on the Holy Face at the National Eucharistic Congress which took place in Pescara in 1978.
Perhaps a Pope would never had gone to visit the religious sanctuary in Abruzzo if news of this exhibit had not reached all the way to the cell of a Trappistine nun by the name of Blandina Paschalis Schlomer in the convent of S. Maria Frieden, near Dahlem in the Eifel region in Germany. And perhaps no scholar would ever have dedicated himself to this extraordinary object if the Sister had not sent a package containing her research to Father Werner Bulst, of the Society of Jesus, an expert on the Shroud of Turin, and if the author of this article had not been there with his fellow Jesuit at the moment the package arrived.
With the research contained in this package the Trappistine Sister wished to demonstrate nothing less than that the Holy Face of Manoppello can be perfectly superimposed on the head that can be seen on the linen of the Shroud of Turin. And I myself have also been able to authenticate the exactness of her research and the irrefutable result. Then I made, together with friends in Rome who are experts on the Shroud, my first visit to Manoppello. An extraordinary insight and a new conviction was offered to me at that moment: I had found the Roman Veronica, by all experts given up for lost. It was a moment of great emotion.
I have never wanted to create difficulties for the Canons of St. Peter’s in Rome. However each year on the vigil of Passion Sunday it is to be noted that one of them exhibits at St. Peter’s what is only a copy as a substitute for the true relic. This is done with a special blessing from the upper balcony of the pillar of the Basilica of St. Peter’s where Francesco Mochi has situated the massive statue of St. Veronica with the veil in her hand.
But every research is in debt to only one thing: the truth. I did everything in my power to show with iconographic expositions and comparisons with so many other images of Christ, that the Holy Face of Manoppello is nothing other than the original Veronica that was venerated for centuries in the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican.
I tried to demonstrate also the fact that both this Face, and that of the Shroud, are at the root of all the great development of the representations of Christ at least from the fourth century, if not already from the third. It appears evident that the image of Christ in the Christian East even to this day, and that the same image in the Christian West, at least until the Renaissance, must have had the same model. The question of why this is has never been posed by scholars in the field of art.
Now the Pope has come to Manoppello and according to my opinion, more through this gesture than through his words, he has clearly expressed his opinion that this object is, beyond all research already done and still to be done, of extreme importance.
Even beyond the joy of the encounter with the people of Manoppello and of all of Abruzzo, the lengthy remaining before the image-relic was the most eloquent gesture of his visit. The Pope was visibly touched and remained in a great silence before this image of Christ as in a direct encounter with Jesus made possible through the Holy Face.
Before this encounter, all research is secondary. The truth defends itself. Now gratitude above all is due, not only because this image has remained substantially intact throughout the course of the centuries, but also because God has offered to the current Pope a most personal encounter with the Son, in front of and through the means of the icon-relic, which very well may be the most important in all the world.
It is true that I had hoped that such a visit might be made by the late Pope John Paul II, in particular for the year of the Son in preparation for the Great Jubilee of 2000.
I spoke with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, and at his request, prepared a memorandum on the Holy Face of Manoppello.
Perhaps he had this memorandum in mind when he decided as Pope to make this pilgrimage, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Chieti, Bruno Forte. I will never forget the moments of preparation for the visit of the Pope when the Archbishop prayed Lauds with the Capuchins. Such gestures should be repeated more often. Perhaps the visit of the Pope to the Sanctuary of Manoppello, has opened once again our eyes to look upon Jesus, and not so much on church structures.
To find Jesus, seeking his face, is the duty of every Christian, the Pope said in his discourse. Finding Jesus in his church, and thinking, speaking and acting in front of his Face will have as a consequence a new love for the millennial institution of Christ. The contemplation of the actual Face of Jesus, the creation of which cannot be attributed to human effort, will be able to produce in all theologians and officials of the Church a new attitude toward God, less dependent on human reasoning and more faithful to his saving interventions even in our own history.