VATICAN CITY, MAR. 27, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Not only the face, but the entire body of Blessed John XXIII is incorrupt, almost 38 years after his death, a Vatican aide confirmed today.
Last weekend an internal Vatican report revealed that a canonical recognition of the Pope´s remains was carried out Jan. 16, which was necessary before moving his body from the Vatican Grottoes, beneath the main floor of St. Peter´s Basilica. The document said the witnesses present saw that the Pontiff´s face was incorrupt. He had the same expression as he did when he died in June 1963.
At a press conference today, Cardinal Virgilio Noè, archpriest of the basilica, clarified that the whole body of the “Good Pope” was incorrupt.
The discovery does not imply a miracle. Vincenzo Pascali, professor of legal medicine at the Catholic University of Rome, explained that the process of injecting formaldehyde, to which John XXIII´s body was subjected, made it possible for the tissues not to deteriorate. Pascali also noted that the body was protected by three boxes, which impeded the entry of oxygen.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, said Monday that the “conservation of the face, intact and smiling, is a gift from God.”
By tradition, Popes are buried in three containers. John XXIII´s body was in a cypress coffin, which was placed in a lead catafalque, known as “castrumdoloris,” which in turn was deposited in a travertine marble sarcophagus.
The bulletin “The Basilica of St. Peter,” published monthly by the Fabric of St. Peter — a Vatican institution responsible for the conservation of Christianity´s largest church — explained that the opening of the three containers began at 8:45 a.m. Jan. 16. After a midday pause, work continued. At 5 p.m. the cypress coffin was extracted, and at 5:30 p.m. it was pulled by hand in a cart and taken to the Altieri Deposit, which is specifically equipped for canonical recognitions.
At 6 p.m. Cardinal Noè received Cardinal Sodano, and Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, general affairs substitute of the Vatican state secretariat. Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, director of Vatican City´s health services, was also present.
The body will be taken to St. Jerome´s chapel in the basilica; John XXIII admired the Fathers of the Church, and this saint in particular. Cardinal Noè said the chapel will have to be modified before the body is received.
The Vatican is considering letting the faithful view John XXIII´s body again, before it is reinterred.