(or The True Canvas of God)
article and photos by Paul Badde
(translation of the article which appeared in the August, 2019 edition of the Italian monthly Tempi)
"The name rose at the moment when your heart became an image: an image of truth/ Your name rose from your eyes lost in gazing", wrote Karol Wojtyla in 1978 in a poem that he called "The Name", addressed to the Veronica we know from the Sixth Station along the Way of the Cross.
The poet was a visionary. Shortly after writing this he will travel from Krakow to Rome, be elected pope and on October 22 present himself to the blocs of the world, then still rigidly divided, with the words "Do not be afraid! Open, indeed, throw open wide the doors to Christ! To his saving power open the borders of states, economic systems such as political ones, vast fields of culture, civilization, development! Do not be afraid! Christ knows "what is inside man". Only he knows! [...] Let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.” Let Christ speak to man!
A saint sat on the throne of Peter: John Paul the Great. It was a quantum leap of history. His election at the time shocked me to the point that in October 1978 John Paul II made me a journalist and a reporter who wanted and had to write all this. Until then I had been a history teacher. "This man will change the world," I wrote in my first article, which at that time no newspaper wanted to publish. However, the Polish Pope stood by my side. Soon, with an invisible hand, he would open up the access to many newsrooms in Germany, even though I had never learned the trade of a journalist. Because of him, in the fall of 1979 I went with my wife from Berlin to Poland, where for the first time in our lives we met a living image in the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Because of him, in March 1979 we wanted to call our fourth child John Paul, but after her birth we decided for Mary Magdalene.
He really became "my pope". As a correspondent for the Berlin newspaper Die Welt, I therefore had the opportunity to be there in person, on April 21, 2000, when the old poet on the papal throne in his reflections on Good Friday returned once again to his old poetry of 1978 (which was first published in 1979, after his election).
“Veronica does not appear in the Gospels” he said on that occasion. “Her name is not mentioned, even though the names of other women who accompanied Jesus do appear.
It is possible, therefore, that the name refers more to what the woman did. In fact, according to tradition, on the road to Calvary a woman pushed her way through the soldiers escorting Jesus, and with a veil wiped the sweat and blood from the Lord’s face. That face remained imprinted on the veil, a faithful reflection, a “true icon” …If so, the name …carries with it the deepest truth about her.”
The holy genius knew that in real history the poetic figure of Veronica, like no other, had kept alive the awareness that Christians have the treasure of an authentic image of God, not made by human hands. A stroke of the genius of God for the benefit of our memory.
But "what is truth?" Jesus is silent when Pontius Pilate asks him, he merely looks at the Roman procurator. In Jesus truth had become man. It stood there in front of him. The problem of truth in the history of humanity has never received a more moving answer than in that interrogation. Pilate finds no fault in the accused. He has him whipped, tortured with a crown of thorns and presents him to those who invoke his death with the words: "Behold the man".
God, who created man in His image, shows Himself here in Jesus as the first and last of all his images, as "the image of the invisible God", as Paul later wrote. Ecce homo! Face the truth! Then Pilate delivers the Son of man to his persecutors: "Take him and crucify him!"
But the trial of Pilate continues today, together with his question: "What is truth?" And just as he was silent then, Jesus is silent even today. In the meantime, however, new witnesses have been added to the trial. And these are the very ancient and "angelic witnesses", as it says in the Easter Sequence that for a thousand years has been sung at Easter by Christians of the West: "Sudarium et vestes". The "sudariumˮ and the “clothsˮ that were found in the tomb of Christ after his resurrection.
Among the "cloths" there is first of all the great linen shroud that in 1578 was brought from France to Turin, where for a long time it was also called "sudariumˮ. The true sudarium however is the so-called veil of Veronica, which is considered to have disappeared from the Vatican after the Sack of Rome in May 1527. It is the "Vera Eikon”, as this original is called, with a Latin-Greek hybrid term, an anticipation in a certain sense of a final unity between Eastern-Orthodox and Western Christianity.
It is the true image of the face of God, about which on August 6, 2004 I wrote to "my Pope" the following letter: «Holy Father, some research on the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe led me to an image of her son that does not resemble any portrait on Earth./ It is in the care of the Capuchins of Manoppello in the Abruzzi, where it has been venerated for 400 years by the population as the "Holy Face". Throughout the centuries many sources have spoken of the same image as "Veronica". / The measurements of this "Holy Face" correspond exactly in its proportions to those of the face of the "Holy Shroud" of Turin. Both cloths show the same person and go beyond the limits of human artistic abilities, without the slightest trace of color. Compared to the Turin linen shroud, however, the veil of Manoppello appears woven from byssus, the precious sea silk of antiquity. in backlighting it is transparent, in shadow it is slate-colored. Instead in the light the veil is golden and honey-colored, as Saint Gertrude of Helfta described the face of the Lord already in the 13th century. It is a living image. It is the Lord. / On March 24th I was able to be a witness in the Sala Clementina when you presented your vision of a "Europe of people on whom the face of God shines". And for the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne you chose as its guiding principle "We want to see Jesus! /. / Please Holy Father, show the young people and adults the “Veronica of Manoppello!” In the Veronica they will see Jesus. / Yours, PB.
The holy poet-Pope graciously thanked me with a blessing, but he was no longer able to personally come to the true self portrait. He no longer had the strength. He could not even go to World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, he had to leave that meeting to his successor.
However, on September 23, 2004, I was able to write a first long dispatch regarding Veronica’s return in my capacity as correspondent for the Berlin-based newspaper Die Welt, which both the Pope and his cardinal Joseph Ratzinger read carefully. When on April 2, 2005 John Paul II returned to the Father's house, therefore, the news of the true image of God among men circulated again in the world.
But this was possible only thanks to an article that Renzo Allegri, the great biographer of Padre Pio, published on three pages in the Italian magazine Gente (“People”) already on September 30, 1978, or rather in the same weeks in which Karol Wojtyla wrote in Krakow his hymn to Veronica that today can be read as a key to his entire pontificate.
|pages one and two of Renzo Allegri's article on the Holy Face of Manoppello|
|page three of Renzo Allegri's article on the Holy Face of Manoppello|
In the first, decisive major report, by Renzo Allegri, on the True Icon we, however, read at the beginning:
"The image of the face of Jesus which has been venerated for almost 500 years in Manoppello, in Abruzzo, is a mysterious image imprinted on a veil of extraordinary fineness that tradition indicates as the "Sudarium of Christ ". It would be the little cloth made from the finest linen that Jesus' mother would have laid over her son's face before he was wrapped in the funeral cloths for burial. But it is not the face of the dead Christ of the Shroud with eyes closed, but a face quite different, that of a person alive, with eyes open and scars healed: it seems to be the image of the newly risen Christ. [...] From the human point of view, it is inexplicable ».
In the meantime, more than 40 years have passed since the release of this article, and it almost seems that Padre Pio had guided the hand of the journalist, who at the time had already dedicated three books to him. This article also marked a quantum leap in Veronica's return process - yet for many readers it could not be considered credible. The news that Christianity possessed an authentic image of the face of God had become too unbelievable for the modern world - news that moreover was not spread by theology seminars, but in a popular magazine to be leafed through in hair salons.
|page in Gente backing Renzo Allegri's article on the Holy Face of Manoppello|
|cover of the edition of Gente containing Renzo Allegri's article on the Holy Face of Maoppello|
The cause of this article on the "Little Shroud in Abruzzo" ¬ - as Allegri entitled his report on the Holy Face of Manoppello - at that time was the exposition of the "Holy Shroud" in Turin, the first since 1933, seen as a major event, attracting the attention of the whole world. But while Allegri was still writing his report, the pilgrim who had circulated the voice of this second shroud in the world died in Turin. It was the Capuchin Father Domenico de Cese, who wanted to see for the first time with his own eyes the "Holy Shroud", after having rediscovered in the veil of Manoppello, years earlier, the holy sudarium mentioned by John the Evangelist in his Gospel of Christ's resurrection. It was the veil that for a long time had been referred to as the "sudarium of Veronica."
|Father Domenico da Cese, O.F.M, Cap.|
As soon as he saw the face on the Holy Shroud, however, Domenico da Cese was hit by a car that very same evening and died four days later, on September 17, 1978 from the consequences of the accident, while Karol Wojtyla in distant Krakow put his poetry on paper in which he addressed to the Veronica of the Cross in a mysterious way these words: “Cutting your way you ran. Did you first learn to cut your way as the crowds pushed towards the place of Execution or did you always know how? Since when, how long – tell me, Veronica. The name rose at the moment when your heart became an image, an image of truth. Your name rose from your eyes lost in gazing. Sister you long so much to see, long so much to feel, your eyes are always there…And you say: close, I want to be so close that no void can reveal itself apart from You, so close that your absence cannot return to me.”
For Karol Wojtyla Veronica's heart had become the canvas of God.
|from "Christ Carrying the Cross" by Hieronymus Bosch|
And once again in our midst is this "lost face" of which Jorge Luis Borges wrote in Buenos Aires in 1960: "If we knew what he really looked like, then we would have the key to the parables, and we would know if the carpenter's son was also the son of God". The poet was blind. Yet he too was a seer, like John Paul II - and he was right. He had never seen the veil of Veronica, like Karol Wojtyla. Yet it is as Borges used to say. It is a miraculous fabric, unique and unparalleled, like truth itself.
There is no other "image" that matches it. No one knows how it was formed. In this veil, however, we truly possess a key to understanding Jesus' parables and we can testify that the Son of Man was truly the Son of God. In this veil, as nowhere else, can we recognize that the Creator of heaven and earth became man and person, and not book. Here Jesus Christ shows us that the incarnation of God was not an interlude. He did not strip off our nature as if it were a mask.. He is still a man, in eternity and glory. "The glory of God is the living man", wrote Irenaeus of Lyons around the year 180 in his work Against Heresies, and again: "The life of man is the vision of God".
And here we now look at God himself in a personal encounter with a living man, and we can recognize him as the person who stands before us. We can, but we do not have to. For the true image is silent, as Jesus kept silent before Pilate. It does not oblige us to do anything.
However, everyone here, like the pilgrim of Dante's Divine Comedy who saw before himself in Rome the same veil, can again whisper: "My Lord Jesus Christ, true God, so was this how your face looked?" [«Segnor mio Iesù Cristo, Dio verace, or fu sì fatta la sembianza vostra?»]
Because the True Icon, the Veronica, has really returned and lets itself be contemplated day after day from morning to night. Close as never before, not far away as before in Rome, from the loggia of the old basilica of Saint Peter’s, but in a small out of the way pilgrim church in Abruzzo. Here we see the face of Christ as near to us as it was to Veronica herself, who made her way through the crowd along Jesus' Way of the Cross to offer him her heart, so that he would imprint his face upon her, no longer full of blood and wounded, but healed, in the splendor of his resurrection. Disarmed and disarming. Veronica converts us.
Now her image binds me like a thread of byssus also with my mother and my father, and with Domenico da Cese and Renzo Allegri - and with "my Pope” in Heaven and with his old longing and desire, with which he makes Veronica whisper the words: “I want to be so close that no void can reveal itself apart from You, so close that your absence cannot return to me.”
Here, in the midst of all the pilgrims, we see: the true icon transforms us all into visionaries.
Manoppello, 15 July 2019