Thursday, May 19, 2022

Thousands of People at the May Celebration of the Holy Face


photo by Paul Badde

photo by Paul Badde

Text and photos by Antonio Bini (except as noted)

In 2020 and 2021 the May celebration of the feast of the Holy Face was scaled down due to the pandemic, with the suppression of the procession, which in ordinary times was always attended by many devotees and companies of pilgrims. But the strong desire to maintain, even during the emergency conditions, the centuries-old continuity of the feast had allowed only for the transfer of the Holy Face - by a small civil defense truck - to the church of San Nicola, in the center of the town, to the church where the anonymous pilgrim in the sixteenth century entrusted the Holy Face to Dr. Leonelli.


photo by Paul Badde

The celebration of Mass the past two years was also scaled back and access to the church limited to just 78 people. This year, however, thousands of people arrived for the feast of the Holy Face, on May 15 and May 16, which was certainly not less than in the years before the pandemic. It was difficult to enter the church, with many people having to remain outside. 

We noticed a number of pilgrims coming from abroad, Poland, Germany, France, etc. I managed to exchange some impressions with the religious Benjamin Koulagna (in the photo), who accompanied a group of pilgrims who came to Manoppello from Paris, thanks to the French Catholic organization Etoile Notre Dame. His emotion was palpable. He told me that it was the first time he had seen the Holy Face in person, receiving the feeling that the sacred image almost wanted to speak to him. In his hand he had the text of Benedict XVI's prayer dedicated to the Holy Face and carried a red rose, like other members of the group.

The children dressed as angels returned to open the procession, followed by the band. On the balconies of the centuries old houses of Manoppello, the most precious embroidered blankets were exhibited by families, a number of whom also had a supply of rose petals which they showered down upon the Holy Face as it passed by.

Easily noticeable was the widespread feeling of serenity, peace and festive devotion among the crowds of people who inundated the town and the road connecting with the Shrine, eager to participate in the festival as in the past.

Many mayors of neighboring towns  participated in the event together with the mayor of Manoppello, Giorgio De Luca,. In this period the municipality of Manoppello is engaged in nonstop work to improve the roads and parking near the Shrine, in preparation for the Jubilee of 2025.

The fireworks returned at the halfway mark along the route, both on the journey toward the Church of San Nicola and on the return to the Shrine. The influx of pilgrims was favored by the summer climate of the days.

The provincial Fr. Siro at the microphone and alongside the Rector Fr. Gentili

Fr. Gentili leading the praying of the Rosary

Fr. Siro at the right of the photo with the Handmaids of the Most Precious Blood behind

On both days the provincial father Fr. Matteo Siro was present. The entire Capuchin community was in attendance, led by the rector Fr. Antonio Gentili. On Monday, after the Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Chieti, Mgr. Bruno Forte, with the participation of the parish priest Fr. Girolamo De Rose, Fr. Antonio Gentili and other religious, including the former superiors of the Shrine, Fr. Germano di Pietro and Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, the Holy Face was brought back in procession to the Basilica, through the streets of the town, accompanied by prayers and hymns. 

Fr. Germano di Pietro and Fr. Carmine Cucinelli

To give the opportunity to the largest number of people to follow the event, for the first time the entire procession was broadcast live streaming on the Facebook page of the Basilica of the Holy Face thanks to the footage of Angelo Vorraro, who is part of the Volunteers of the Holy Face (in the photo). And many have connected from various parts of the world with the FB page of the Basilica.  

In the front row Fr. Cucinelli and Fr. di Pietro with the cameraman Angelo Vorraro

Present  also was Sister Blandina Paschalis Schlömer and the author Paul Badde, engaged as always in the taking of a number of photos of the Holy Face. Among his many photographs I point to one from May15 - with the consent of Paul himself - in which the Holy Face, which never ceases to surprise, seems to present extraordinary similarities with the Face of the Shroud, demonstrating the infinite changeability of the exceptional image.

Photo by Paul Badde

It was almost as if the celebration had blissfully canceled the difficult period of the pandemic and Manoppello is ready to welcome the great flows of pilgrims as was the case until a few years ago.

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