Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Biography of Padre Domenico da Cese Published in Poland


"The Stigmatist of Manoppello" ("Stygmatyk z Manoppello") is released in Poland.


The Life, Miracles and Mystical Experiences of Father Domenico of the Holy Face of Jesus


Reviewed by Antonio Bini

The book, authored by Aleksandra Zapotoczny, recounts the story of this mysterious Capuchin stigmatist and his supernatural gifts, emphasizing his connection to the Holy Face of Jesus preserved in Manoppello and his friendship with Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.  


Aleksandra Zapotoczny, has written several books on Pope John Paul II (in Italy Mondadori published in 2022 her book "Live inside us").   She has been interested for years in the Holy Face, which is known throughout Poland and has been venerated by thousands of Polish pilgrims.  Her interest in the Holy Face quite naturally extended to the figure of Father Domenico da Cese leading her to participate in several of the commemorative meetings in Manoppello, held annually around the anniversary of Father Domenico’s death, which took place on September 17, 1978, in Turin, where he had gone for the exposition of the Shroud.  Through these occasions she became a part of the group of devotees and propagators of the figure of the Servant of God, who have come to Manoppello from all over Italy.

During these gatherings she met the late Br. Vincenzo d'Elpidio, who was a long-time friend of Fr. Domenico and tireless supporter of his cause of beatification. The author manages to comprehend the friar’s extraordinary dedication to the Holy Face whose authenticity he always maintained.

Brother Vincenzo d'Elpidio, Antonio Bini and Aleksandra Zapotoczny

The volume narrates the most important facts of the life, the alleged miracles and the mystical experiences of Emidio Petracca, known to the world as Father Domenico, faithful propagator of the Holy Face. The author is convinced that Poland will also come to love Father Domenico and his work, helping to spread the extraordinary news that the world preserves a great gift: the image of the Face of Christ.

It is a cause for reflection that it was the Capuchin himself who, although despite the fact that he did not wish to be spoken about, prophesied on several occasions that after his death there would be an ever increasing amount of talk about his life at the service of the Holy Face.

Readers will also find many images of the places linked to the life of this priest from Abruzzo. There are testimonies and a number of interviews with people significantly present in the life of Father Domenico and those who frequent the Basilica of Manoppello. Space is given to the words of the vice postulator of the Cause of Beatification, Father Eugenio Vittorio Di Giamberardino and to Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, at the time of the interview rector of the Basilica of the Holy Face in Manoppello, who for many years, together with Sister Petra-Maria Steiner, collected many documents concerning the Servant of God.  Some family members of Father Domenico are also among those interviewed.

In her introduction to the book, the author Aleksandra Zapotoczny thanks in Italian one by one the people who contributed to the realization of this volume: "My most sincere thanks to Antonio Bini, to the editorial staff of 'La voce delle Cese', to Paul Badde, to the Capuchin Fathers of Manoppello and to the other witnesses of the holy life of Father Domenico da Cese".

Zapotoczny says that: "it is a great responsibility to introduce a person to those who do not yet know him. To date, publications have been published on the figure of Father Domenico in Italian, English, German and Portuguese, but this book of mine is the first in Polish. I paid great attention to describing the figure of Emidio Petracca, especially for those Poles who, not knowing languages, could not deepen the topic. I read about Father Domenico for the first time in the book by the German writer Paul Badde and this character intrigued me immediately, especially for the fact that he was "recommended" to the faithful by Padre Pio. So I decided to introduce Father Domenico to Polish readers, using for the cover of my book the first photo of Father Domenico that I saw published in Paul Badde's volume".

Zapotoczny recalls how "Poland is coming to know this incredible relic. In my book, I dedicate an entire chapter to the history of this Veil, mentioning all the people who have been working for years to make it known everywhere, as Father Domenico desired, including Renzo Allegri, Sister Blandina, Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, Saverio Gaeta and many others. An affectionate thought also goes to Pope Benedict XVI, who wished to visit Manoppello back in 2006, thus turning the spotlight on this relic.  Many Polish pilgrimages go to Manoppello and in our country there are already several churches that preserve copies of the Holy Face but, until today, the figure of Father Domenico has been known hardly at all.

We asked the author some questions to better understand her work.

1) What particular circumstance led you to write the book?

For years I have been dealing with the topic of the relics of the saints, regarding which I have published two books, with the third in preparation. Precisely because of this I approached the Veil of Manoppello. The first "eye to eye" encounter with Jesus was impressive. When you look at the Veil and the light that illuminates the reliquary changes, it is as if the face of Jesus comes to life. The fact that the Veil remained in the tomb of Jesus together with the Shroud of Turin inspires the faithful to deepen their knowledge of the life and death of Christ. During my research, I read for the first time the name of Father Domenico da Cese in the book written by the German writer Paul Badde, where a photograph of the Capuchin was also published. The figure of Father Domenico immediately inspired me and from that moment I knew that this photo would be published on the cover of the book I would write about him. I thank my publishing house Wydawnictwo AA for accepting my project.

2) You spoke of the bilocations of Padre Pio and Padre Domenico. How could you define or frame the relationship between these two Capuchins?

In Poland the Neapolitan priest Don Dolindo Ruotolo is known, also for being in the odor of sanctity. He too was recommended to the faithful by Padre Pio.  Don Dolindo did not receive the stigmata, but like Father Domenico he had the gift of bilocation. A curious fact, not well known in Poland, is that relating to the "double bilocation": first of all of the appearance of Padre Pio in Manoppello shortly before his death and then the presence of Father Domenico during the funeral of the friar of Pietrelcina. This is a curious and mysterious event, which deserved to be presented to the vast Polish public. Although, as we well know, supernatural events are not a sufficient measure to confirm the sanctity of a person. Being holy means something else.

3) You mentioned the process of canonization

The servant of God, Father Domenico da Cese is a figure to be presented to the Poles. In the book, of course, I report all the main biographical facts and I also recalled the information on the opening of the process of Beatification, as well as the prayer for the intercession of Father Domenico which was translated into Polish for the first time.

4) You also mentioned the figure of Brother Vincenzo.

My research to complete the book began before the pandemic and was interrupted by the lockdown period. This book was published on the 45th anniversary of Father Domenico's birth into heaven but, in the meantime, Brother Vincent has left us. It was very precious to me to have been able to know him and to receive a special blessing from him. In the book, I also published one of his testimonies about Father Domenico.

5) You also remembered Sister Amalia Di Rella, from Ruvo di Puglia, who was the spiritual daughter of Father Domenico

In my book, which contains 200 pages, I presented the life, the presumed miracles and the graces that would have been received through the prayers of Father Domenico da Cese when he was still alive. I introduced all the people who were close to him. Among these, the figure of Sister Amalia di Rella could not be missing. Puglia is much loved by Polish people and, presenting this spiritual daughter of Father Domenico, I wanted to invite the devotees to travel not only to Manoppello but also to Ruvo di Puglia (and in particular to the Church of Purgatory, spiritual home of Sr. Amalia and the Volto Santo Association, Editor’s note   )


Aleksandra Zapotoczny, born in Wadowice, Poland, the birthplace of St. John Paul II, now lives in Rome. A Vatican expert, she collaborated with the Postulation for the process of Beatification and Canonization of the Polish Pope. A journalist accredited to the Holy See Press Office, she is the author of 26 books on saints and their relics.  Her book on Father Domenico is published by Wydawnictw AA of Krakow  - Stygmatyk z Manoppello - Aleksandra Zapotoczny | Wydawnictwo AA  - and can be purchased through the main web-stores. Future editions in other languages are desirable.



Thursday, January 26, 2023

Benedict XVI, the Pope Who Brought Christ's Gaze Back to the Church

Benedict XVI Commemorated in Manoppello to coincide with the ancient rite of Omnis Terra


By Antonio Bini

On the occasion of the re-enactment of the rite of Omnis Terra, named from the words of the Latin text of Psalm 65: Omnis terra adoret te, Deus (Let the whole earth adore you) Pope Benedict XVI was commemorated at the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello.

Antonio Gentili, rector of the Shrine, recalled the origins of the ancient rite, inspired by the event established by Pope Innocent III in 1208, on the second Sunday following the Epiphany, when the Veronica from St. Peter's was carried in procession to the sick being care for in the nearby pilgrims' hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia. That event, as Fr. Anthony underscored, is historically remembered as the beginning of the public worship of the sacred image. He then recalled that the tradition was resumed in 2016, on the occasion of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, with a pilgrimage from Manoppello to Rome during which a reproduction of the Holy Face was carried in procession . In the following years the tradition  of the rite was renewed in Manoppello, thus becoming the third annual feast of the Holy Face.

Poster of the Association of Our Lady of the Holy Face announcing the Feast of Omnis Terra Commemorating Pope Benedict XVI

The rector then emphasized that the celebration intended to remember Pope Benedict XVI, recently deceased, who was a pilgrim to the Holy Face on September 1, 2006, the first Pope to visit this Shrine. Fr. Antonio highlighted that the television images and photos of that visit - which had returned to light in recent days - showed the pontiff deeply moved in meditation for a long time in prayer before the sacred image, and then as the pope encouraged the religious and the faithful in the search for the face of Christ.  Fr. Antonio concluded with the invitation to pray for Benedict XVI, thanking him for what he gave to the Church and to the Shrine.

In his homily, Archbishop Bruno Forte drew an appropriate link between Pope Innocent III, initiator of the cult of the Holy Face, and Benedict XVI, as the pontiff who "brought back" to the Church the forgotten sacred image, after centuries of oblivion and silence.

The archbishop, with an emotional voice, affirmed how the gaze of the dying pope rested on the reproduction of the Holy Face, as the pontiff gave a last invocation: "Lord, I love you."

From another testimony, published on the website of the German-speaking Catholic press agency Kath.net on January 2, 2023, we know that biographer Michael Hesemann visited Benedict XVI one last time on December 1, 2022, finding him weak, but mentally alert. Hesemann himself says that the pope had near him, on a small table, the reproduction of the Holy Face of Manoppello. It is likely that he had several, including the one, kept between two panes of glass in a silver frame, received as a gift from the Capuchins on September 1, 2006.

Photo courtesy of Paul Badde

Photo courtesy of Paul Badde

Archbishop Bruno Forte recalled, not without emotion, that visit, taking up and commenting on some passages of the prayer that the Pope dedicated to the Holy Face, relating them to sections of the discourse that the Holy Father gave on the occasion of his apostolic journey to Germany, to Freiburg im Breisgau, on September 24, 2011, during a prayer vigil with young people.

It was Archbishop Bruno Forte himself who welcomed Benedict XVI to Manoppello in 2006.

The pope's encounter with the Holy Face was very special. As he arrived at the Shrine, on a bright summer day, he was welcomed by thousands of people who filled every possible space near the Shrine of the Holy Face. The pope was visibly moved, without hiding his joy at being there, avoiding the attempts of those who tried to dissuade him from a trip to this place where no pope had ever gone before.

Pope Benedict with Archbishop Forte at the left and Fr. Cucinelli to the right

As soon as he arrived in the church plaza, he addressed a brief greeting to those present, and then entered the church which was crowded with bishops, Capuchins and priests.  He paused in prayer on his knees before the altar.  Then accompanied by Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, then rector of the Shrine and the archbishop of Chieti-Vasto Bruno Forte, the pontiff climbed the stairs behind the main altar leading to the other side of the Holy Face, and remained there for several minutes in deep recollection, staring intensely with shining eyes at the Holy Face, whispering, according to some, "... The Face of God".                                                                                              

Precisely these long and emotional moments of prayer represented the most significant moment of the visit. During his address to those present, carried on  giant screens to those outside the church, the Pope avoided expressing any official pronouncement on the nature of the veil, stressing however that he was in a place "where we can meditate on the mystery of divine love by contemplating the icon of the Holy Face".   Following this he addressed an invitation to religious: "Dear priests, if the holiness of his Face remains impressed on you, pastors of Christ's flock, do not be afraid, the faithful entrusted to your care will also be infected with it and transformed". He also urged the seminarians present not to be attracted by anything other than Jesus and the desire to serve His Church. At the exit of the church, he addressed a last greeting to the enthusiastic crowd that awaited him, renewing the encouragement, addressed above all to the many young people "to seek the Face of Christ" concluding his visit, exclaiming with joy: "It is good to be with the Lord."

Individual pilgrims and groups from various parts had reached the Shrine only on foot starting the night before, as security needs had led to traffic being blocked several kilometers away.

That day I was also in Manoppello. Indeed I was there since the previous night, as Fr.  Carmine, then rector of the Shrine, asked me to help him in the organizational phase of that extraordinary event that had no precedent for the town and for the Capuchins themselves, and also to set up a stage for journalists and television reporters and transformed the adjacent San Damiano hall into a press room.                                                                                         

That night we slept very little waiting for the next morning, between prayers and songs of groups of young people and new arrivals, including foreign journalists. The next morning, the arrival of the pontiff by helicopter, who landed in the nearby parking lot for the short walk to the Shrine, in the company of Archbishop Bruno Forte, of Mons. Georg Gänswein, Mons. James Harvey Prefect of the Apostolic Palace. Their passage was surrounded by the joy of the crowd that crowded near the barriers, moving Benedict XVI himself.

Already in February 2006, the hypothesis of a visit by Benedict XVI had leaked to some newspapers. The news caused a sensation, but was immediately denied by Mons. Bruno Forte, archbishop of the diocese of Chieti-Vasto, including the Shrine of the Holy Face. A circumstance that was to reveal little-known back stage maneuverings, or rather attempts made by members of the Vatican hierarchy to advise against that visit by citing possible consequences.

The announcement did not fail to generate expectations and hopes among the Capuchins themselves, who discreetly put their organizational machine into practice, preparing for the expected event. Only on August 19, 2006, the Vatican Press Office issued a simple notice confirming that the "pilgrimage of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello" would be held on September 1. In short, a private pilgrimage and not a true and proper visit, which reaffirmed the pope's desire to meet the Holy Face.

In fact, at the beginning of 2005 it was Mons. Forte to have invited the then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Manoppello, from whom he had received episcopal ordination on September 8, 2004 in Naples, before assuming the leadership of the diocese of Chieti-Vasto. In a recent interview with the  newspaper "Avvenire" on January 6, 2023, Forte confirmed that the date of April 18, 2005, had already been set, but owing to the fact that two days before the appointed day the cardinal was elected pope the appointment could not be kept. But it was only postponed.

In the autumn of 2004 it was the journalist and writer Paul Badde who informed the future pope, living at that time close to the Vatican in the very same apartment building as Badde, of the research he was conducting on the Holy Face, and gave the cardinal a copy of his first book on the Holy Face published in Germany (Das Muschelseindentuch, Ullstein, Berlin).

Heinrich Pfeiffer, the authoritative scholar of the image of Christ, after presenting his theses on Veronica at a conference with the foreign press in Rome on May 31, 1999,delivered a memorandum to Cardinal Ratzinger hoping for a visit by Pope John Paul II.   In those same years, Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini had also informed the Polish pope of the results of the research by Fr. Pfeiffer, professor of Christian art history at the Gregorian University of Rome and scientific consultant of the International Research Institute on the Face of Christ, created in 1997 by Cardinal Angelini himself, precisely in view of the great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

The visit was a great international media event, as documented by the booklet in which I collected the main comments expressed by the reporting which appeared on television, in newspapers and magazines, or was disseminated by press agencies. The Capuchins of the shrine wanted to publish this booklet as a supplement to their magazine Il Volto Santo di Manoppello.

It seems appropriate to me to point out some of these comments in order to understand what happened in the years that followed and also to grasp the meaning of the papal pilgrimage that raised questions among the many journalists and commentators. For example, Jerry O'Connell, in the British newspaper The Universe, wondered "how a visit accompanied by over 300 journalists could be considered private". Paul Kreiner in "Der Tagesspiegel" also recalled the irony with which the pope himself spoke of the "private" character of his visit.

Saverio Gaeta is quite explicit in his article "This is the Face that we will see again", published in the weekly Famiglia Cristiana, n. 37/2006, p. 57. For the most widely circulated Catholic weekly in Italy, with unusual frankness, he wrote that "his coming, despite the objections raised by some leaders of the Vatican Curia regarding the appropriateness of such a trip (for fear that in fact it would contradict what has been claimed for centuries by the Vatican Chapter, which has always claimed to possess the original), makes legitimate the idea that the Pontiff is convinced of the authenticity of this image." Paul Badde, in the newspapers Die Welt and Berliner Morgen Post, also dwelt "on the resistance of the Vatican hierarchy" that characterized Benedict XVI's trip to Abruzzo. Others also spoke of  a"detective story".  Circumstances that can also give an idea of the difficulties that have characterized Benedict's pontificate.

The popular German newspaper Bild, in an article by Andreas English, wrote "the pope prays before the Holy Face, elevating the image to the most important relic of Catholics." Joachim Fischer in the Frankfurter Allgmeine Zeitung recalled the Gospel of John which speaks of the cloth that covered the face of Jesus (sudarium) as well as the burial cloths, also claiming that "more than his prudent words, the Pope impressed by remaining in silent devotion before the Icon". From this behavior the journalist notes the possibility of historical changes in the sense that "for the Catholic Church the period in which it distanced itself from images is over."  Guido Horst, in the German newspaper Die Tagespost, argued that the pope "with not a word expressed the thesis that the veil of Manoppello is what in the tomb was on the Face of Jesus." The BBC and Reuters also spoke specifically of visiting the Veronica. Others recalled the studies of Sister Blandina Paschalis Schlòmer regarding the overlapping of the Holy Face with the Shroud.                                                                                                                                                                                 

With respect to a variety of comments and questions in the press around the world, I recall that L'Osservatore Romano dedicated its front page to the papal visit, with the complete text of Benedict XVI's words delivered at the Shrine on an internal page, without further comment. After almost 150 years of history, the Vatican newspaper was still and all taking an interest in the Shrine of Abruzzo for the very first time.

The meaning of the visit must also be understood in the light of the cordial meeting with the most famous scholars of the Holy Face, which took place inside the Friary, during a break in the visit, as documented by the images that show the pontiff with Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, Paul Badde, Sr. Blandina, Fr. Andreas Resch and Saverio Gaeta, all convinced supporters of the authenticity of the veil and its identification with the Veronica (true icon).

Pope Benedict with Paul Badde.  In the middle Archbishop Forte, Fr. Resch and Fr. Pfeiffer
To the right Sr. Blandina

Sr. Blandina greeting Pope Benedict

Fr. Pfeiffer greeting Pope Benedict.  Archbishop Forte looks on

Fr. Pfeiffer, in his article which appeared in the special edition of the Shrine's magazine dedicated to the visit, published by the Capuchins, argued that it was important that the pope, "well beyond any type of pressuring" had seen with his own eyes "the image of Christ who was venerated over the centuries as the most important relic of Christianity. Perhaps it would never have been known to the general public if the now deceased Fr. Domenico da Cese had not wanted to exhibit it during the Eucharistic Congress held in Pescara", alluding to the exhibition on the Holy Face that the Capuchin, deeply convinced of the authenticity of the image, wanted to organize on the occasion of that event (September 1977), during which  Pope Paul VI was present.

Padre Domenico and the Holy Face

Pfeiffer, the first to support after years of research the identification of Veronica with the veil of Manoppello took the opportunity to admit "that he never wanted to create difficulties for the Canons of St. Peter's, but it is known that one of them exhibits on the eve of Passion Sunday, what is a copy that replaced the true relic". In previous years, a lively debate regarding the Veronica's disappearance also ended up on the pages of the monthly 30 Days, between the German Jesuit and Mons. Dario Rezza, canon of Saint Peter's Basilica. We also know that two canons of St. Peter's went to Manoppello in the early years of the new millennium and, while venerating the sacred image, verbally recommended to Fr. Germano Di Pietro, then rector, to avoid talking about the Veronica, of which they had also begun to write about in the magazine of the Shrine. For a long time the Capuchins had been afraid to do so.

Pfeiffer, who died on November 15, 2021, suffered greatly from the consequences of his studies, which he tenaciously continued to carry out. After the pope's visit to Manoppello, he wrote that "every research is a debtor to only one thing: the truth." And Benedict's presence in Manoppello should also be understood as a response to his studies.

In reality, from that visit, immediate effects emerged, such as the Shrine's elevation to the status of basilica only three weeks after the visit. The granting of the title was intended to "intensify the attachment and devotion of the chair of St. Peter to this important church and at the same time make it the center of particular liturgical and pastoral action."

One year after the pilgrimage, the Pope sent to the Shrine, through the bishop, the prayer dedicated to the Holy Face, the text of which expresses a long reflection directed to the "human face of God who entered history to reveal the horizons of eternity. Silent face of Jesus suffering and risen ..".  A true and proper testimony that came from the theologian pope, who has shaped his entire religious and academic life on the dialogue between faith and reason, between science and faith.

The consequences of the encounter with the Holy Face emerged from other voices, such as that of Alessandra Borghese, a Roman noblewoman very close to Vatican circles, who published an article in the newspaper Il Resto del Carlino on December 20, 2007 – entitled "The Mystery of the Holy Face" – in which she wrote that  some friends had heard that the pope was deeply moved by that sacred image.

Even the centuries-old silence on Veronica began to fade. In a statement from the Holy See Press Office of July 14, 2011, coinciding with the presentation of the exhibition "The Man, the Face, the Mystery," to be held in San Marino, with works from the Vatican museums, it became known that Veronica had disappeared in 1527. A thesis confirmed by Antonio Paolucci, then director of the Vatican museums, in an interview with the newspaper Il Resto del Carlino on August 18, again about the San Marino exhibition. But these belated admissions, although relevant, seemed to produce little reaction, persisting towards the "rediscovered Face " an attitude of little attention.

Other signs and events followed in this direction in the following years, also after the resignation of Benedict XVI (February 28, 2013), which he followed by almost a decade of secluded silence, until his death.

Among these signs and events, it is worth remembering how,  coinciding with the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, instituted by Pope Francis in 2016, the idea of resuming the ancient tradition established by Pope Innocent III took shape.

On January 16, 2016, a pilgrimage of 400 people, led by Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, with the reproduction of the Holy Face, enclosed in an ancient silver reliquary, traveled from Manoppello to converge on St. Peter's Square. The procession was able to enter St. Peter's under the statue of Mochi and then in procession, led by the choir, headed to the nearby basilica of Santo Spirito in Sassia, packed to the hilt. The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Mons. Gänswein, prefect of the Papal Household and, above all, Benedict XVI's trusted secretary, who had already accompanied the pope to Manoppello.   see https://holyfaceofmanoppello.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-veronica-at-st-peters-today-toward.html   and    https://holyfaceofmanoppello.blogspot.com/2016/01/archbishop-georg-gansweins-homily-at.html

In the course of the homily he clearly stated that it was "a copy of the ancient original that Pope Innocent III showed to pilgrims and that for four hundred years has been kept in Abruzzo, on the Adriatic, in an outlying area of Italy, from where today for the first time it has been brought back to the place where its public worship began." Among the concelebrants were two canons of St. Peter's, Lebanese Archbishop Edmond Y.  Farhat and Mons. Americo Ciani.

Since then the ancient rite is repeated each year in Manoppello and ends with a short procession in front of the church plaza. On January 17, 2021, Mons. Gänswein returned to preside over the celebration, reiterating, among other things, that "On the first of September 2006 Pope Benedict brought back to the Church and throughout the earth the 'face of God' human and personal". He added  the reference to when on May 15, 2009, "Benedict visited the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, from which both the veil of the Holy Face and the Turin Shroud come as an incomparable message of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead."  Relevant statements, which can be traced back to the thought of the pope, and of course to that of Mons. Gänswein and that make us think back to the humble prophecy of Fr. Domenico da Cese, who came to the same conclusions in the 1970's, courageously expressing them in the notes that accompanied a holy card that reproduced the Holy Face.   see     https://holyfaceofmanoppello.blogspot.com/2021/01/homily-of-archbishop-george-ganswein-at.html                                                                                                                                                                                   

In the book "Nothing but the truth" (ed. Piemme, Milan, 2023), written by Mons. Gänswein, with the collaboration of the journalist Saverio Gaeta, there are references to the Holy Face. The book, released a few days after the death of Benedict XVI, is causing an uproar for some details that emerged especially during the period following the resignation, which perhaps would have required greater confidentiality, while understanding the human desire to clarify some episodes,  after almost ten years of silence, also to protect the memory of the deceased pope.

The book represents, in any case, an opportunity to learn more about the vision of the recently deceased pope.  It is argued, among other things, that for pope Ratzinger at the base of the trilogy "Jesus of Nazareth," there was the conviction of Jesus' saving message, "which is not simply a doctrine, but the concrete encounter with his person, with the God who truly became man and who continues to be present in every age." In this regard, Mons. Georg recalls the words that the pope pronounced in Manoppello before the Holy Face: "To see God we must know Christ...".  In addition, the invitation of Mons. Forte, to the then Cardinal Ratzinger, to whom he donated a copy of the book on the Holy Face, edited by Saverio Gaeta, printed by Famiglia Cristiana in March 2005.   In the appendix of Mons. Georg's book, the papal testament is published, written on August 29, 2006, that is, while he was preparing for his pilgrimage to the Holy Face, of which he knew everything (even beyond the books that had been given to him), including his spiritual legacy: "Remain firm in the faith! Don't let yourself be confounded!... Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth, and the life—and the Church, with all her shortcomings, is truly His body."

The papacy of Benedict XVI will be discussed at length, as well as his resignation, which seemed inspired by the gesture made in 1294 by Celestine V, on whose mortal remains kept in the Basilica of Collemaggio in L'Aquila he went to pray in the days following the earthquake that struck Abruzzo on April 6, 2009 and again, on a pastoral visit to Sulmona on July 4, 2010. But to have brought back to the Church the gaze on the face of Christ will remain an act historically attributable to his pontificate.

(all photos except as noted courtesy of Antonio Bini)

Monday, January 16, 2023

Homily of Archbishop Bruno Forte for the Feast of Omnis Terra

Photo by Paul Badde

 The Holy Face, Light that Illuminates the World

Homily at the Mass at the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello

Sunday, January 15, 2023


+ Bruno Forte

Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto

 It was Pope Innocent III in the year 1208 who desired that the veil of the Holy Face should be carried in procession from St. Peter's Basilica to the nearby church of Santo Spirito in Sassia. It was the second Sunday after Epiphany, called Omnis Terra Sunday from the words of the Entrance Psalm Omnis terra adoret te, Deus, et psallat tibi! - Let the whole earth adore You, O God, and sing You hymns (Ps 65:4). At the end of that procession the Bishop of Rome wished to bless with the precious relic the sick of the Pilgrims' Hospital, which he himself had rebuilt and upgraded. With that gesture the Pope intended to highlight the healing grace flowing from the Face of the Savior contemplated with faith and the fruitfulness of the prayer of adoration and intercession before that Face, which we contemplate in the veil of byssus venerated here in Manoppello.


Another Pope, Benedict XVI, who went to meet the Lord last December 31, wished to visit this place on September 1,  2006 to venerate the Holy Face, receiving such a profound impression that he wrote the beautiful prayer we know and also wanted permanently beside him the copy of that beloved Face. Reliable sources assure us that it is to that image that the dying Pope directed His last gaze, pronouncing the words, the true synthesis of His entire life given to Christ, to the Church and to the world: "Lord, I love you!". The word of God proclaimed this Sunday helps us to understand Pope Benedict's love for the Holy Face and the reasons that make the pilgrimage to this place a particular source of grace and peace: here from the Face of the risen Jesus marked by pain, but serene and radiant, the light of the Redeemer of man shines for us; Here everyone can welcome that light into his heart for his own life; from here we start with the intense desire to witness to everyone the light of that Face, to lead many to the encounter with the Savior, who profoundly changes our lives and makes us pilgrims in love towards the heavenly homeland, where the Holy Father Benedict has now entered and intercedes for us.


The text taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah (49,3,5-6) reports the promise made by the Lord to manifest His glory on His servant, Israel, whom He chose and shaped from his mother's womb to restore the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the survivors of Israel and whom he made "light to the nations" to bring salvation from on high to the ends of the earth. In a homily given on September 24, 2011, to young people,  gathered for a prayer vigil in the Fairgrounds at Freiburg im Breisgau, Pope Benedict affirmed: "Christ, who says of himself: 'I am the light of the world' (Jn 8:12), makes our lives shine, so that what is said in his Gospel may be true: 'You are the light of the world' (Mt 5:14). It is not our human efforts or the technical progress of our time that bring light to this world. The suffering of the innocent and, finally, the death of every man constitute an impenetrable darkness that can be illuminated for a moment by new experiences, as by lightning in the night. In the end, however, a distressing darkness remains... However, we see a light: a small, tiny flame that is stronger than darkness, seemingly so powerful and unbeatable. Christ, who rose from the dead, shines in this world, and he does so most clearly precisely where according to human judgment everything seems gloomy and hopeless. He has conquered death - He lives - and faith in Him penetrates like a small light all that is dark and threatening. Those who believe in Jesus certainly do not always see only the sun in life..., but there is always a bright light that shows them a way, the way that leads to life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The eyes of those who believe in Christ see even in the darkest night a light and already see the glow of a new day". Yes: we believed in the light, which is the Risen Lord, and this light gives meaning to our life and to history and fills the restless hearts of us pilgrims to the heavenly city with peace and hope.


It is not we, therefore, who give ourselves light: it is Christ who gives us the light, he who - as the Apostle Paul affirms in today's second reading, taken from  the First Letter to the Corinthians (1:1-3) - has sanctified us in himself, making us saints by vocation together with all those who everywhere call on his name. The light that liberates and saves is grace, a free and undeserved gift, offered to us  in abundance by the One who died and rose for us. Pope Benedict also recalls this in the homily cited:  "If we believe that he is the Son of God who healed the sick and raised the dead, indeed, that he himself rose from the tomb and truly lives, then we understand that he is the light, the source of all the lights of this world. We experience again and again the failure of our efforts and personal error despite our good intentions. There are still wars, terror, hunger and disease, extreme poverty and merciless repression. And even those who in history have considered themselves "bearers of light", without however having been enlightened by Christ, the only true light, have not created any earthly paradise, but have established dictatorships and totalitarian systems, in which even the smallest spark of humanism has been stifled. Only Christ can say "I am the light of the world"... Only by starting from Him can we become an ever new light.  Of course, instead of putting a light on the lampstand, you can cover it with a bushel. Let us ask ourselves then: how often do we cover God's light with our inertia, with our obstinacy, so that it cannot shine, through us, in the world?"  May the Lord who looks at us from the Face contemplated in this place flood us more and more with His light, freeing us from evil, making us  radiant with His light with His grace, for the salvation of every creature.


            Finally, in the passage from the Gospel according to John (1:29-34), we are entrusted with the task of bringing to the world the light that  has reached us in Jesus. John the Baptist bears witness to this, saying: "Behold the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world!" He then traces for all of us a task, the same one that He fulfilled with His whole life: "I have beheld the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and remaining upon him. I did not know him, but the very one who sent me to baptize in water said to me: "He upon whom you will see the Spirit descend and remain, it is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit". And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God." This is our mission: to bear witness to Christ, Lord and Savior. It is once again Pope Benedict who reminds us of this on the occasion cited: "Christ is not so much interested in how many times in life we falter and fall, but in how many times we, with his help, get up again. He does not demand extraordinary actions but wants his light to shine in you. He does not call us because we are good and perfect, but because He is good and wants to make us His friends. Yes, we are the light of the world because Jesus is our light. We are Christians not because we accomplish extraordinary things, but because He, Christ, is our life. We are holy, if we allow His grace to work in us."


Let us ask, then, the Lord, who looks at us from His Holy Face, to fill us with His light and to be witnesses to His light  in every situation of our lives, for the benefit of every creature He will give us to meet. We do so with words taken from  the beautiful prayer that Pope Benedict sent us a year after his visit here in Manoppello: “O Lord Jesus, like the first apostles, ... We too, your disciples of this difficult time,  want to follow you and be your friends, attracted by the radiance of your desired and hidden face. Show us, we beg you, your ever new face, a mysterious mirror of God's infinite mercy. Let us contemplate him in the eyes of our mind and heart: the face of the Son, the radiance of the Father's glory and the imprint of his substance (Cf. Heb 1:3), the human face of God who entered history to reveal the horizons of eternity. light that illuminates the darkness of doubt and sadness, life that has defeated forever the power of evil and death...  Make us pilgrims of God in this world, thirsting for the infinite and ready for the meeting of the last day... Mary, Mother of the Holy Face, help us to have "clean hands and a pure heart", hands enlightened by the truth of love and hearts enraptured by divine beauty, so that, transformed by the encounter with Christ, we may give ourselves to the poor and suffering, in whose faces shines the mysterious presence of your Son Jesus, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen!”

Monday, January 9, 2023

Celebration of Omnis Terra This Sunday at the Shrine of the Holy Face


Archbishop Bruno Forte will preside at the Omnis Terra celebration this Sunday January 15 at 11am local time at the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello.   Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be remembered in prayer during the Mass.  A blessing will be imparted with the reliquary of the Holy Face during the celebration.   The celebration will be Livestreamed on the Facebook page of the Shrine https://www.facebook.com/basilicavoltosanto and also should be available for viewing after the celebration is concluded.  

Sunday, January 1, 2023

With Gratitude for the Heroic Christian Life and Witness of Pope Benedict XVI

 We gratefully praise and pray to the Most Holy Trinity for our dearly departed Pope Benedict XVI who  poured out his life totally for Jesus Christ and the Church.  His pilgrimage to the Holy Face of Manoppello on September 1, 2006 threw open wide an amazing door to Christ, which for five long centuries had been tightly shut!  May the perpetual light of the Holy Face of Jesus shine upon him and upon all the faithful departed through the mercy of God, through Christ our Lord. Amen!  

Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Face released on September 1, 2007 the first anniversary of his pilgrimage to the Holy Face of Manoppello

Lord Jesus, as the first Apostles, whom you asked: “What do you seek?” accepted your invitation to “Come and See,” recognizing you as the Son of God, the Promised Messiah for the world’s redemption, we too, your disciples in this difficult time, want to follow you and be your friends, drawn by the brilliance of Your Face, much desired, yet hidden. Show us, O Lord, we pray you, Your Face ever new; that mirror, mystery-laden, of God’s infinite mercy. Grant that we may contemplate it with the eyes of our mind and our hearts: the Son’s Face, radiance of the Father’s glory and the imprint of His Nature (cf. Hb 1:3), the human Face of God that has burst into history to reveal the horizons of eternity. The silent Face of Jesus, suffering and risen, when loved and accepted, changes our hearts and lives. “Your Face, Lord, do I seek, do not hide Your Face from me.” (Ps. 27:8ff) How many times through the centuries and millennia has resounded the ardent invocation of the Psalmist among the faithful! Lord, with faith, we too repeat the same invocation: “Man of suffering, as one from whom other hide their faces.” (Is. 53:3) Do not hide your Face from us! We want to draw from your eyes that look on us with tenderness and compassion the force of love and peace which shows us the way of life, and the courage to follow you without fear or compromise, so as to be witnesses of your Gospel with concrete signs of acceptance, love and forgiveness. O Holy Face of Christ, Light that enlightens the darkness of doubt and sadness, life that has defeated forever the force of evil and death, O inscrutable gaze that never ceases to watch over mankind. Face concealed in the Eucharistic signs and in the faces of those that live with us! Make us God’s pilgrims in this world, longing for the infinite and ready for the final encounter, when we shall see you, Lord, “face to face” (Cor. 13:12) and be able to contemplate you forever in heavenly Glory. Mary, Mother of the Holy Face, help us to have “hands innocent and a heart pure,” hands illumined by the truth of love and hearts enraptured by divine beauty, that transformed by the encounter with Christ, we may gift ourselves to the poor and the suffering, whose face reflect the hidden presence of your Son Jesus. Amen. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The "Acheropite" Icon and the Face of Christ, The Holy Face of Manoppello and the Shroud of Turin

Archbishop Bruno Forte

(Rapino, 18 September 2011 – Study Conference on the Holy Face)



Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto




            I would like to present three brief reflections of a theological-pastoral nature on the relationship between icons known as "Acheropite"(Not made by human hands) and the Face of Christ, with particular reference to the Holy Face of Manoppello and the Shroud of Turin. The first reflection concerns the plausibility of an image of Christ not painted by human hands. The second considers the interpretation of the unpainted image and in the specific case of the image of the Holy Face present in Manoppello, also in relation to the Shroud. The third presents the conclusions of a pastoral and spiritual nature that can be drawn from these premises, those that most directly interest me as a pastor.


            1. Seeing and listening: two ways that are joined together.  Why has Christian tradition shown so much interest in so-called "acheropite" images, that is, those not painted by human hands? What is the theological plausibility of such an interest? According to biblical testimony,   the ways of perceiving the divine over time are fundamentally two: listening and seeing. To say that the biblical world is solely the world of listening -  given the objective relevance of the invitation to listen contained for example in the formula "Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad" - "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one" (Dt 6: 4) - is  overly simplistic. In  the  Bible  listening is  of fundamental importance because the attachment  to the Word is central  to it: however, both in the Old Testament and in  the New Testament, listening is inseparable from vision.


            In the First Testament we find the combining of the verb  "to see"  with terms related to hearing (for example, at Sinai  "all the people saw the voices":  Ex 20:18 according to the Hebrew text). At the climax of this conception we find Revelation 1:12: the visionary is on the island of Patmos on the day of the Lord, in a liturgical context, and hears the noise of falling waters. He then turns to "see the voice", as the Greek text says: "blèpein tén phonén". "Blépein" is the verb used to indicate an "insistent and profound look", scrutinizing, an intense observation. In the expression of Revelation 1:12 the object of this intense and penetrating gaze is the voice, "tèn phonén". The common translation  in the past was "I turned to see him speaking." This translation, however, is unfortunate, because  it overlooks the fact that the biblical tradition educates us to see what we hear. This is why the psalmist who has heard the words of the Lord wants to see the Face of God. There is a continuous need for a vision that is combined with listening: considering that in Hebrew the term "panim", face, is a plural form, with a dual meaning at times, it is understood that listening, like the vision of the Face of God, will never be truly final. If the Face is the Faces, then God also offers Himself as a tremendous quantity of Faces to be scrutinized. The plural of "panim" tells us that the search for the Face will be continuous, and that therefore the  way of the perception of the divine in time will be a continuous listening to the word to see the Face ever more deeply, up to what theological Tradition calls the vision of God face to face, eternally.


            It is therefore legitimate for the believer not only to listen to the Word of the Lord, but also to seek at the same time the vision of the Face of God: what  response does the biblical God give to this legitimate aspiration? What is the structure of divine self-communication in history? According to the Councils of Nicaea II  (787)  and Constantinople IV (870), which put an end to the crisis of iconoclasm, that is, of the denial of the possibility and legitimacy of sacred images, there are two ways in which God satisfies this aspiration to hear the voice, seeing the voice. According to the formula of the Fourth Constantinopolitan Council they are the "logos en syllabé" - "the  discourse in syllables", and the "graphé en kromasi", "writing in color" (DS 654). There are then two languages of the sacred, a verbal language and a visual language, and this for the faith of the Church is founded on the fact that life became visible (1 Jn 1:2), that the Word became flesh (Jn 1:14). If the Word became flesh, we can be authorized not only to hear His Word, but also to see His Face in some way.


            This means that God always reveals himself in a circumscribed form, whether it is a word, the circumscription of a sound, or in the graphic form of an image, of an icon, which is not by chance called "written" and not painted (hence "iconography"). Through this twofold way we are authorized to seek in a circumscribed form what God says to us, in words and images. This is why it is plausible that, just as once and for all the Word spoke of himself in the words of men and revealed himself in the flesh in his historical face, so he can manifest himself to men in a form that is not only verbal, but also sacramental, and also, by absolute gratuitousness, with an intervention that manifests itself in the form of the visible. I am not referring here to the question of subjective visions, which is very complex from the theological and spiritual point of view and requires rigorous discernment, but I believe that what has been said so far justifies why in the Christian tradition there has always been a great desire for images not painted by human hands: this desire, in short, is not illegitimate in the Christian tradition,  because it is God who established the foundation for this by the fact that he spoke, made himself visible and became man.


            The conclusion of this first point is modest, but absolutely important, because if we were to say theologically that no "Acheropite" image can exist, we would have to prejudicially exclude an investigation into this field: the conclusion we have reached is instead that,  if God loves to manifest Himself "in figuris", both verbally and in vision, we cannot exclude that He has left us imprints of His visible manifestation,  which derive from His making Himself present in history. Of course, these imprints are all the more eloquent the closer to the source: this is why no image will sufficiently render the strength of the encounter with the Word in the flesh as the holy places, where Jesus set his feet (one thinks of Peter's house in Capernaum or at Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher or on the road along the western perimeter of the temple, precious places because of the footprints of a Presence that were there).


            2. The "serious case" of the Face of Manoppello,  What interpretation should we give, then, to the image  and in particular to the image not painted by human hands? If God speaks in words and manifests himself in a handwriting in colors, it is necessary to read the handwriting, just as it is necessary to interpret the logos. This is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Judaism and Christianity are religions of interpretation, while Islam, which denies interpretation on principle, is not. Hermeneutics, that is, the science of interpretation, is born within the Judeo-Christian biblical and theological tradition, because God has spoken about Himself but has not totally explained himself in speaking about himself: therefore, through what he told us about himself or gave us to see for himself, we must always go further, dig into the abyss, walk towards the depths. So I try to read theologically an image considered "acheropite", that of the face of Manoppello, giving as possible some elements, obviously not affirmed absolutely, because we are not in a field in which mathematical certainty must be used, but moral certainty is enough. What does the handwriting of this Face tell us? In my opinion, there are three fundamental aspects.

            The first is the strong emphasis on the historical subject of our faith. We do not believe in a myth, we believe in a historical revelation that has passed through a man whom we recognize to be the Son of God, visible, palpable, who has been touched, seen, heard, who has spoken words. Now this appears truly clear in this Face, a Face of man that emphasizes how the subject of the accomplished revelation was the Son of God in the flesh, Jesus. The second aspect is that this Jesus manifests himself in this Face with the two fundamental characteristics of "passus et glorificatus". It is a Face that bears within itself the imprints of the Passion, but at the same time it is a Face that radiates brightness, the victory of Light over darkness: therefore, while it reminds us of the historicity of the Passion, it also reminds us of the historicity of the original testimony of the victory over death. In the Face of Manoppello the dimension of the Glorified is more perceptible than in the Shroud (even if the two faces coincide perfectly, as the research of Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlömer has shown). In the Shroud there is more the idea of the "Christus Passus": in Manoppello one perceives the paradoxical unity of the "Passus et Glorificatus", which is also a theme of all Christian iconography, in which the Risen Christ is often represented with the wounds of the Passion. Therefore, we are faced with the paradoxical union of death and resurrection.


            The third indication that the image gives us is that it is not only the "Passus et Glorificatus" that is represented, but also the "Patiens et Glorificans". That is, the One we see in this image is the One who in a certain way is suffering, but is also overcoming pain, is communicating to us the victory over pain and death: the (grammatical) participles are not only in the past, but also in the present. The experience of interpreting this image is not only, then, "in illo tempore" (at that time), but it is also alive "hodie et semper" (today and forever): it is as if there were a fixation in eternity both of the act of the Passion and of the act of the Resurrection. On the other hand, in the Book of Revelation the immolated Lamb who is standing says exactly the same things: the most precious biblical source for reading this Face is then not only John 20:7 ("Peter arrives and sees the veils and the sudarium, which was on his head ..."), but also Revelation with the image of the slaughtered Lamb who is standing, of the "Christus Passus et Glorificatus" which is at the same time "Patiens et Glorificans" (Rev 5 :6).


            3. The history of a veil coming from the East to the West and its meaning for us. It is important to  investigate the historicity of this testimony, it is important that two types of methodologies intersect, the one linked to the sciences of the spirit and that proper to the natural sciences: it is necessary to reconstruct historically how this image is here in Manoppello to answer the two questions:  is this the image that was in Rome until the early 1500’s and that which was called the Roman Veronica? And, if this is the image which arrived in Rome in 705, is it the same image imprinted on the "soudarion" of which John speaks (20:7), later present at Camulia in Cappadocia? With regard to these questions, the arguments can only be related to the history of tradition. In addition to these types of investigation, there are then those aimed at ascertaining the consistency of the data: the cloth in front of us:  of what material is it made? The claim that it is of byssus is a particularly important statement, which as far as I know has not been absolutely proven, nor has it been disproven. And then: how was the image imprinted on this material? It is not through weaving, it is not through painting, is it a photo-impression? In order to arrive at the answer to these questions scientific methods are important. Nothing can be taken for granted if one does research in a rigorous way. Having said all this, however, some conclusions of a pastoral-spiritual nature are fundamental.


            In the first place,  if this image is to be contemplated without separating vision and listening, it must be done such that the reading of it is accompanied by the reading of biblical texts, especially the Book of Revelation. It will be necessary to work in this direction, to scrutinize the image with the help that comes to us from the Word of God. Secondly, it is necessary to learn to stand before this image, as  Pope Benedict XVI invited us to do in his discourse during his pilgrimage visit on September 1, 2006, as under the merciful gaze of the Lord, that is, by experiencing contemplative silence before the Word. The image of Manoppello can be an education in listening to the silence of God, which is not the silence of the mutism of those who do not speak, but it is the silence of those who speak with a language that is not that of words. Knowing how to let ourselves be looked at, placing under the gaze of Jesus' mercy the sin of the world and the expectation of humanity and letting His Face be imprinted upon us, is what matters most. What would be the point of contemplating the Face, investigating it in the most diverse ways, if all this did not lead to a deeper union with Christ? He did not come to be reproduced as an image external to us, but to live in us, as Paul says in Galatians (2:20): "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me". Then the great spiritual fruit to be invoked is not external reproduction, but the re-presentation in us of Him, that is, that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.


            And this is precisely what the Shrine strives  to offer through the service of the Word, of Reconciliation, of the Sacraments, and this is what is especially dear to me as a Bishop: that is, the Basilica of the Holy Face is a place of  holiness, a place where the image of Christ is written within us. Everything is preparation, help that must be offered with the utmost scientific seriousness, but what we must strive for is that this encounter takes place, that is, that the loving gaze with which the believer lets himself be contemplated by Christ may be the vehicle of the gift of His mercy. Observation and feedback then move along the border between great humility and serious attention to both historical and scientific research, but to support the theological-spiritual ends which I have outlined, and which are the true purpose of the pilgrimage to the Holy Face of Manoppello.

(editor's note: thanks to Paul Badde for providing me with the original Italian text of Archbishop Forte's discourse, and also for the photos)