Monday, May 22, 2017

The Face of Truth

photo by Antonio Bini


The spread of the Holy Face devotion in the Philippines and among Catholics of other Asian countries in the testimony of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

by Antonio Bini

Only a few years ago, the centuries-old May feast of the Holy Face in Manoppello saw the exclusive participation of devotees from the town and from some of the region's localities who, until the nineteen sixties, walked to the sanctuary, organized into pilgrim companies, which carried before them a crucifix or the sign of the Holy Face, which in the remaining days of the year was kept in their respective churches.

This year the celebration saw the extraordinary participation of the cardinal from Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle, who presided over the celebration of the Mass and then participated in the procession leading the sacred image from the Shrine to the parish church of St. Nicholas, in the historic center of Manoppello, that is, to the place where a mysterious pilgrim had brought it in the sixteenth century.

photo by Antonio Bini

In continuity with the popular devotion of the past, this year there came the pilgrim companies of Vacri and Contrada Santa Giusta in Lanciano, while there were many other pilgrims who reached the sanctuary from all over Italy and abroad.  Among these were also a group of Russian Orthodox.  All together, sharing the desire to participate in a ritual that has very suggestive and absolutely unique aspects. A sign of how much the Holy Face, which for centuries had been hidden from the world, has now been opened to the world.

In his introduction to the Mass, the Rector of the Shrine thanked the Cardinal for accepting the invitation, despite his many international commitments, being also responsible for Caritas International.  Fr. Carmine Cucinelli wanted to remember how in August 2015, just prior to  the second international mission of the Holy Face in the Philippines, Canada and the USA, the cardinal of Manila had wanted to address a greeting to the bishops, religious and devotees of the Philippines and to Fr. Carmine, for his presence at the anniversary of the enthronement of the Holy Face at Nampicuan, in the church now the first sanctuary of the Holy Face in Asia. 

The cardinal, welcomed by a spontaneous and prolonged applause, wished to become a personal interpreter and witness to the growing worship of the Holy Face in the Philippines and, consequently, also among the Catholics of other Asian countries, bringing  "his greetings and wishes for peace from the Philippines, where devotion to the Holy Face is alive, vibrant and widespread."

Beginning his homily, he said that "he was joyfully attending the Feast of the Holy Face". In developing theological reflections on Christ's human face, Tagle - in front of the sacred image - stated that it represents "a great blessing given to us all."  

photo by Antonio Bini

video of beginning of Holy Face procession with statue of Saint Pancratius May 2011

The procession began as always following the traditional ritual. At the end of Mass, there arrived at the shrine the patron saint of Manoppello, Saint Pancratius, who came "to take" the Holy Face, stopping in wait in front of the church door.  (see video above taken in 2011)  An example which has been followed in the past by several neighboring towns, with entire communities in procession to the Holy Face together with their holy patrons, in witness to the importance that popular devotion attributes to the image of Christ even before studies and research in recent years revealed its uniqueness and authenticity, finally recognizing in it the legendary Veronica (vera-ikon) for years enveloped and perhaps protected by oblivion.

Then the chorus of the basilica, directed by Maestro Nicola Costantini, followed by the band, a double row of children dressed in angels and then the cardinal, along with Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, Fr. Paolo Palombarini, and other religious, including Don Bonifacio (Ted) Lopez, a Filipino priest of the Diocese of Rome, who preceded the Holy Face, followed by the mayor of Manoppello along with other mayors of neighboring municipalities wearing the tricolor band and then by a long crowd of participants. During the journey are visible the posters of greeting and welcome that the Commune has hung on the walls of the town.   

"Cardinal Tagle,  Manoppello Welcomes You!"  photo by Antonio Bini

At the end of the descent the bearers of the Holy Face stop, rotating the throne on which is set the monstrance for blessing, the blessing which once was directed to the surrounding populations and territories, but which today Cardinal Tagle imparts to the world.

The procession then slowly takes up its course once again, including songs, prayers, pauses for meditation, and the sound of the band.  Approaching the town vibrant and prolonged fireworks begin -- the so-called "Greetings to the Holy Face." The procession reaches the old town between two rows of the crowd, while from the balconies upon which handmade blankets are hung,  flowers petals rain upon the passage of the Holy Face. 

                                  video of Holy Face Procession entering walls of Manoppello May 2011

photo by Antonio Bini

At the beginning of the main course, the procession stops at the beginning of Via Santarelli,  to allow the return of the statue of Saint Pancratiu to the church of the same name, saluted by the applause of all present. The Holy Face resumes the journey, reaching the church of St. Nicholas, where a vigil will be kept all night, and then return to the shrine the next morning.

Meeting so many people, including writer Paul Badde, German scholars.Sr. Blandina Paschalis Scloemer and Sr. Petra-Maria Stainer. I stop to greet Sr. Laura. When the elderly nun see me she is quite moved and begins to cry.  She was and is very close to the Holy Face and has returned to Manoppello for the feast, after her convent of the Alcantarine Sisters, adjacent to the church of St. Nicholas, was closed last December, after more than a century of life.

The Mayor, Giorgio De Luca, invites the cardinal to the headquarters of the Commune, a short distance away, for a formal greeting in the presence of other councilors.   Many people follow him.

In the course of an interview, responding to the question of what his first impressions were when he first encountered the Holy Face, Cardinal Tagle confessed to having a reproduction of the image received as a gift from the Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See, Mercedes A. Tuason. He then added that upon entering the church and stopping to  pray in the front pew near the altar, he "felt embraced, welcomed by a gaze of tenderness from that face that speaks, who lives and does not instill fear. A face of Truth. " His testimony leads us to reflect on the words of John Paul II "Christianity is not a form of culture, or an ideology,or a system of lofty principles of values. Christianity
is a Face: Jesus Christ” (June 4, 2004)
Turning to the knowledge and worship of the Holy Face, the Cardinal has not forgotten to recall the role played by Daisy Neves, a devout American of Filipino origins, who for some years has been committed with extraordinary generosity and tireless dedication to the devulgation of the sacred image by means of numerous initiatives in various countries, including the Philippines, Canada, the United States, Italy, and Lebanon. 

While leafing through the pages of the volume "The Holy Face, from Manoppello to the World," published by me last year - Tagle wanted to thank, from the Shrine of the Holy Face, Madam Neves and the growing network of friends and religious spread across various countries of the world, along with all those who are engaged in sharing the knowledge of the Holy Face. The Cardinal returned to elaborate on some specific aspects of the theology of the Holy Face during an interview with Vittoria Biancardi of TV2000.

Before leaving Manoppello, the cardinal thanked the Capuchins for their fraternal and warm welcome, affirming that for him it was a grace to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Face in the presence of so many pilgrims, finally inviting them to pray - from Manoppello - for peace in Syria and Venezuela and for the populations in Africa suffering from hunger.

Finally a little curiosity. In recent years, there have been many cardinals visiting the Holy Face before and after Benedict XVI's arrival at the shrine in 2006 yet Luis Antonio Tagle is the first cardinal to attend the feast of the Holy Face, leading and participating in the entire course of the procession, which measures more than two kilometers. To record the presence of a cardinal at the feast of the Holy Face, it is necessary to go back in time, to May 18, 1947, when Cardinal Benedetto Aloisi Masella arrived in Manoppello in  to bless the new precious reliquary that the population and the emigrants wanted to create in thanksgiving to the Holy Face for their having been spared from the destruction of the war.  On that occasion the cardinal took part in the procession, but only on the final part, traveling only about a hundred meters.

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