article and photos (except as noted) by Antonio Bini
Fr. Carmine Cucinelli departs from the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello where he had arrived in September 2004 after 15 years spent in the parish of San Francesco di Paola of Sulmona, A long stay of which there was barely a mention in his first editorial published in the magazine of the Holy Face No. 2-2004 in which in thanking his predecessor Fr. Germano Di Pietro, he expressed the desire to continue with joy the path already marked out, referring to that period "full of ferment" surrounding the Shrine. Though not failing to express his feeling a little sad for having to leave Sulmona he declared himself nevertheless to be glad to start the new experience which led him to "be at the service of the True Face of Jesus". He had clear ideas and so it was to be..
It is enough to quickly leaf through the editions of the magazine from the years Padre Carmine has served at the Shrine to understand how his expression "to be at the service of the True Face of Jesus" was not a generic promise or a cliché. For a few years before his arrival, the magazine contained just a few pages, in which often the Holy Face was not even mentioned.
Then the third millennium "forced" the long-established magazine founded in 1906 by Padre Francesco da Collarmele to be turned into an instrument for the communication of extraordinary events that have placed exclusively at the center of the magazine the devotion to the Holy Face and the growing awareness of the Holy Face in Italy and throughout the world.
Though it is not easy to make a complete summary of the work carried out by p. Carmine in these years, one can not help but consider how during his leadership of the Shrine extraordinary "things" took place that will remain forever in the history of the Holy Face. I am referring not only to Pope Benedict XVI's memorable visit to Manoppello on September 1, 2006. Fr. Carmine welcomed the German pope, the first pilgrim pope to travel to Manoppello. A visit of historical importance according to many, such as Mons. Amerigo Ciani, a Canon of St. Peter's Basilica , who during his homily delivered on January 15, 2017 in Manoppello, stated in clear words that "after 479 years a pope knelt before what had been the most precious treasure of the Popes". A concept expressed, albeit with different words, also by Mons. Georg Gänswein..
Prior to 2005, no book on the Holy Face, among the few which had been published, had come from beyond the narrow local boundaries of Manoppello. The Veronica, a controversial, complex and fascinating issue, was at the center of the first International Conference "The Holy Face and the iconography of the image of Christ" (at Chieti on February 10-11, 2006) promoted by the Shrine, in agreement with the Archbishop of the Diocese Chieti-Vasto and the University of Chieti. The Conference, in the now imminent prospect of the 500th year of the arrival in Manoppello of the Holy Face, saw Fr. Carmine engaged firsthand as organizer, in collaboration with Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, together with the influential role played by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, President of the International Institute of Research on the Face of Christ.
Just the year before two books had been published on the Holy Face, the first by Saverio Gaeta, included as a special supplement to the Easter edition of the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana, the other – by Paul Badde – published in Germany, with a Polish edition immediately following.
The arrival of the Pope, the elevation of the Shrine to the status of a Basilica, which took place just three weeks after his visit, and the prayer of Benedict XVI dedicated to the Holy Face, written by him on the first anniversary of his visit, were moments that belong to the history of the sacred image, which has had a unique diffusion throughout the Christian world.
Some moments to remember.
On the scientific level, the Holy Face, together with the Shroud of Turin and the Tilma of Guadalupe, was at the center of the International Workshop of Scientific Approach to the Acheiropoietos Images, promoted by the Italian "Center for Experimental Research" (ENEA) of Frascati – from May 4 to 6, 2010, which was attended by researchers and scientists from numerous countries. Although it was a scientific discussion, for the first time an international group of experts recognized the reliability of the hypothesis that the Holy Face is to be considered an acheropite image (not made by human hands). Fr. Carmine attended the event, invited by the scientific director of the Conference.
What in previous years had been for Padre Carmine an "Italian mission" (Taranto, Lucca, Padua, S. Maria di Leuca, Rome, and other cities) was transformed into an international mission. In 2011 the Bishop of the Diocese of Tarbes-Lourdes, Philippe Perrier, during his visit to Manoppello, was so impressed by the Holy Face that he expressed the desire to set up an exhibition in Lourdes which he later organized with the help and commitment of Fr. Carmine and the historical-artistic collaboration of Fr. Pfeiffer and Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlomer. The exhibition "Le IMAGE DU CHRIST A TRAVERS LE VISAGE DE LA VIERGE" (The image of Christ through the face of the Virgin) was inaugurated in Lourdes on September 1, 2011. The exhibition would remain open for a month and represented an event that would have been difficult to imagine just a few years before.
On November 17, 2011, Carmine was invited to deliver a talk as part of the second "Semana Guadalupana" (Week of the Guadalupana) at the People's University of Puebla (Mexico), in which the theme of the acheropite images, Shroud of Turin, Holy Face and the Tilma of Guadalupe, at the center of the Frascati meeting promoted by ENEA, was again studied.
August 2013 – As part of the Meeting of Rimini, the exhibition "The Rediscovered Face: The unmistakable features of Christ" was presented, curated by Raffaella Zardoni, with the collaboration of the Shrine of the Holy Face. The exhibition, visited by thousands of people, is replicated in New York City from January 17 to 19, 2014 and then in other cities.
September 2 – September 17, 2014 - Fr. Carmine was the protagonist of the first Mission to the United States and the Philippines – accepting the project proposed by a devout American woman of Filipino origin, Mrs. Daisy Neves, very devoted to the Holy Face. The program for the mission was developed in a number of cities: San Francisco, Las Vegas, East Palo Alto, Manila, etc. with the events organized in collaboration with dioceses and parishes. In the Philippines, a replica of the Holy Face was solemnly enthroned on September 16 in the town of Nampicuan. The church will be elevated to a Shrine under the name Holy Face of Jesus in Asia, becoming over the years a destination for pilgrims from all over the Philippines.
|Celebration for the Holy Face in Nampicuan|
|Raymond Frost, Blog Editor and Sacristan of St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco|
receiving chasuble of the Holy Face presented by Fr. Carmine to the Church
In September 2015, the mission was repeated in the U.S. and the Philippines, also touching down in Vancouver in Canada. Among the destinations were the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, The University of Manila, Taguig City and again Nampicuan.
|Fr. Carmine with the Bishop in Taguig City |
and Fr. Bonifacio Lopez at left and Fr. Danilo Flores at right (photo by Paul Badde)
|Fr. Carmine speaking at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles (photo by Paul Badde)|
On January 16, 2016, during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy - proclaimed by Pope Francis in the Bull of Indiction entitled Vultus Misericordiae (Face of Mercy), there took place the re-enactment of the annual procession established by Pope Innocent III in 1208, which took the Veronica from St. Peter's Basilica to the nearby hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia on the second Sunday after the Epiphany (Omnis Terra) – Padre Carmine had met with the rector of the Shrine of Divine Mercy in the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia Mons. J. Bart, during the meeting of the rectors of Italian shrines, held in Rome in November 2015 to plan this historic event. Unforgettable is the pilgrimage from Manoppello, with the participation of the choir and other faithful travelling to Rome. The procession from St. Peter's, with the replica of the Holy Face in the Shrine's silver reliquary made in 1902, would finally arrive, after much effort, at the altar of the historic church of Holy Spirit in Sassia. During the two-day exposition of the replica of the Holy Face, two Masses were celebrated by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the Papal Household, and by the Lebanese Archbishop Edmond H. Farhat, Canon of St. Peter. The rite of Omnis Terra was replicated in Manoppello in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, with the presence of Mons. Amerigo Ciani, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Cardinal Kurt Koch and the Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore J. Cordileone.
On 18 September 2016, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Shrine of the Holy Face, presided by the metropolitan Job Getcha of Telmessos, of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, concelebrated together with 14 representatives of the Orthodox churches who attended the 14th plenary session of the International Mixed Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The celebration took place in the presence of Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians,, Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and the Archbishop of the Diocese of Chieti-Vasto Bruno Forte. .
On May 17, 2017, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Cardinal of Manila and President of Caritas International, accepted the invitation of Fr. Carmine to participate in the annual May celebration of the feast of the Holy Face.
In his homily Tagle recalled the spread of devotion to the Holy Face in the Philippines. He is the first cardinal in the history of the Shrine to accompany in procession the Holy Face from the basilica to the church of San Nicola.. Also in 2017 Padre Carmine undertook his second mission to Poland, in the Diocese of Katowice.
Notable accomplishments during his time as Rector and father Guardian, were the renovation and refurbishment of the Casa del Pellegrino (Pilgrim's Hotel) after years of being closed and the construction of the new sacristy as well. As the epidemic has spread, he has built up, even with limited means, the livestreaming services of the main religious celebrations as well as the Facebook page of the Basilica to allow so many faithful around the world can feel close to the Shrine. And Fr. Carmine has received many messages expressing good wishes and gratitude to him from people all over the world, including from those of the Orthodox Church.
The daily extraordinary commitment required by his increasing responsibility in the leadership of the Shrine, also had the merit of welcoming the collaboration offered by so many people who have shared and been active parts of his wonderful mission.
He welcomed and met the Pope, dozens and dozens of cardinals, hundreds of bishops, thousands of religious, millions of pilgrims, men of government, ambassadors, scientists, journalists, writers, television crews, always willing to welcome everyone and ready to respond to the interests of the diverse questioners.
|Fr. Carmine with Mercedes Tuason the Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See|
It should not seem an exaggeration to refer to him to what Herman Hesse wrote about Francis of Assisi: "His language was not that of a fanatic or a braggart. He spoke to the peasants as a peasant and to the citizens as a citizen and to the knights as a knight, he spoke to each one of what everyone cared about and everywhere spoke like a brother to his brothers, as one who suffered to the suffering, and to the sick one who had been healed."
St. Francis has been for Fr. Carmine Cucinelli the role model since his adolescence, when just 12 years old, he chose the religious life entering the seminary. He was ordained a priest on March 18, 1972. On the feast of St. Francis, October 4, he made public his assignment to another convent which he learned some days earlier. In fact, the news was released earlier on September 20 in an article by Dirk Weisbrod published on the website of the German Catholic Agency CNA Deutsch, testifying to the international importance of the figure of Fr. Carmine
The rule of obedience, which he accepted by becoming a Capuchin priest,, provides for a limited stay in a friary. It's not up to me to say how right or timely it is..
We live in temporariness. On the other hand, one who truly believes sees in the journey a metaphor for life. St. Paul said "no habemus hic manentem civitatem" (For here we have no lasting city).
There are many in Italy and especially abroad to identify him with the Holy Face itself, inevitable reference of his missionary commitment carried out generously over the years, to carry on, almost in solitude, networks of relationships in the world, starting in the morning very early, open the door of the Basilica at 6am, with emails that came before 6am, etc. I saw and heard him patiently explain the mystery of the Holy Face to so many groups, even several times a day, always as if it were the first time, involving pilgrims and helping them to live the encounter with the Face of Christ. I could observe how much dedication and care there was in his preparation of homilies, written manually, without ever being repetitive and rhetorical, or allowing himself to be unprepared.
In his farewell mass Fr. Carmine acknowledged with an emotional "arrivederci" the many present who arrived for the occasion in Manoppello, despite the limitations imposed to contain the epidemic. Among them were Sr. Blandina, Paul Badde, Raffaella Zardoni, who arrived from Milan, the members of the Committee for the Celebration of the Feast of the Holy Face and many others.
Fr. Carmine expressed his heartfelt thanks in particular "to those who in recent years have been close to me materially and spiritually, who have supported me, sustained me, and encouraged, motivated and given suggestions and ideas to realize. I thank my religious brothers, the citizens of Manoppello, friends and collaborators, near and far, who through the press, the internet and other audiovisual media have helped to make the Holy Face known in the world: Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, Sister Blandina, Sister Petra-Maria Steiner, Paul Badde, Antonio Bini, Saverio Gaeta, the various editors, journalists, broadcasters, Italian and Polish writers, scientists, researchers, and those who follow through the internet the life of the shrine, those who have collaborated in spreading devotion to the Holy Face in the world: Mrs. Daisy Neves (already in heaven), friends of the Holy Face in Canada, the Filipino friends, Mrs. Tamara Klapatch and Raymond Frost in the United States and so many others."
He thanked the faithful who wanted to give him an icon written by Sr.. Blandina Paschalis Schlömer, which reproduces St. Joseph as Guardian of the Redeemer, to remember the delicate role he played for 16 years "as guardian of the most important relic of Jesus in the world".. Flowers were offered by the Polish nuns of the Holy House of the Living Chalice.