By Andrea Assaf
ROME, APRIL 19, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Rain, cold, fatigue, crowds and interminable lines: This was the experience of a group of modern pilgrims, among the first groups to see the Shroud of Turin, on the opening day of its first public exposition in a decade, on Divine Mercy Sunday.
In their physical suffering they shared in the experience of countless other pilgrims who made the journey before them, beginning in the 16th century when Turin first became home to this famous image of the One who took on the sufferings of all mankind. The relative discomfort of modern pilgrims, incomparable with the perilous and strenuous medieval journeys by foot and on horseback, is not the only commonality among the 1.5 million Christians who will be streaming through Turin’s cathedral over the next few weeks. Past, present, and future pilgrims are also linked by what draws to this most sacred and mysterious of relics: the dual message of the Shroud — one of faith, and one of reason.
Fides et ratio
“How is it possible to explain something so unfathomable as seeing the burial cloth of Our Lord?” reflected 21-year-old Katie Reed, a pilgrim from Kentucky. “For me it isn’t possible. I think Our Lord was working silently on my soul while I was standing there praying and viewing in wonder and awe this most holy relic. Whether people believe the Shroud is really the burial cloth of Christ or not, I suggest viewing the Shroud which is a reminder of what Christ did for us which is much more important than even the relic itself.”
Fellow pilgrim Jason Byer, a 21-year-old from Florida, told ZENIT that his pilgrimage to the Shroud left him intellectually convinced of its authenticity. “After attending the museum on the Shroud and seeing it firsthand I feel no reason to question its authenticity. Being among the first to see the Shroud, knowing that thousands of pilgrims will be following in your footsteps, is very moving and truly shows the privilege that I have had,” Byer continued. “I have traveled all over Europe recently and had the opportunity to see many relics, but none have carried such a profound expression of our faith for me as looking into what I believe is the image of Christ.”
This year’s pilgrims were able to learn about the Shroud’s history and scientific investigation in a way unimaginable to previous generations. In the crypt of the Church of the Most Holy Shroud, not far from the cathedral where the Shroud is preserved, there is an up-to-date multimedia museum, organized by the Royal Confraternity of the Holy Shroud, a lay association founded in 1598. Besides the several historical and religious artifacts related to the Holy Shroud, such as a collection of paintings and writings attesting to its 2,000 year history, the museum provides physical evidence to the outside world of the scientific developments regarding testing on the Shroud since the controversial radiocarbon dating done in 1988 dated some pieces of the fabric to the Middle Ages. Though most media reports still refer to this test as the final word on the Shroud’s origin, as recently as 2005 it was determined, by a member of the 1988 scientific research team, that the fibers taken from the edge of the cloth were cotton, not first-century linen like the rest of the Shroud, which supports the earlier finding that the fabric tested in 1988 was taken from patches added by nuns following documented fire damage in 1532. <br>
The museum also explains the reason the Shroud’s lining, referred to as the Holland cloth, was removed in 2002 due to contamination from the various places the Shroud had travelled through, and the removal of the repair patches, so that the Shroud could be examined, preserved, and displayed in its most original form. Other developments in the last decade, thanks to advances in technology, include modern computer analyses that show the Shroud possesses three dimensional aspects, unlike paintings and photographs.
The point of pilgrimage
Beyond the scientific exhibit, the more profound message emerges — the body on the Shroud of Turin bears all the marks of the passion, all the sufferings Our Lord endured before he rested beneath a linen burial cloth in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It is this body, and this face at peace in death, that the pilgrims come to gaze upon.
“The Shroud of Turin is important for many reasons,” 20-year-old Kathleen Kirsch of Minnesota told ZENIT. “It calls to our minds the reality of the Passion of Christ, the tangibility of his scars; it causes us to ponder the face of Christ. Furthermore, the Shroud creates an opportunity for a pilgrimage.”
What does a pilgrimage mean to a young person in 2010? According to Kirsch, the same thing it has always signified. “In my opinion, one of the things that Catholics of this day and age have lost sight of is the importance of pilgrimage. Pilgrimages have been a core element of Christendom and were major forces in shaping society for centuries,” she explained. “A pilgrimage challenges you: It forces you to step outside of your normal sphere of life and honestly evaluate yourself and your surroundings. A vacation is about yourself and your interests; a pilgrimage is about something other than yourself. Most importantly, a pilgrimage reminds you that, ultimately, we are all pilgrims in this world together, journeying to heaven.”
This was a sentiment echoed by another young American, Mary Jean Lanzilotti of New Jersey, who found joy in Christian fellowship with her peers in their pilgrimage to see the Shroud together. “I was truly blessed to have been able to share this experience with my fellow young brothers and sisters in Christ, who, in their enthusiasm and adoration, were beautiful witnesses of the joy of the Lord to all who were present with us on this special day.”