Returning before the Holy Countenance
The Shrine in Manoppello
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Fr Carmine Cucinelli, OFMCap, Rector of the Shrine in Manoppello.
For centuries it has been known and visited mainly by local believers. The world learnt about the relic of the Holy Countenance of Christ in 2006 thanks to the unexpected visit of Benedict XVI in this tiny Italian place, located between the mountains of Abruzzi and the Adriatic coast. On the occasion of the papal visit I also arrived in Manopello for the first time. Then I met people who contributed most to ‘promote’ this unique relic to the public opinion: Paul Badde, Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schlömer and Fr Carmine Cucinelli, Rector of the local shrine – I wrote about it in ‘Niedziela’ (no 36, 2006). I returned to Manoppello after several years to see the changes after the papal visit to the shrine and to meet Fr Carmine and Sr. Blandina again.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: – In what way have the life of your Capuchin community and the activities of the shrine changed after the visit of the Holy Father?
FR Carmine Cucinelli, OFMCap: – The visit of Benedict XVI caused that our shrine became famous in Italy and all over the world. The Italians themselves were astonished not to have known the relic of the Holy Countenance before. The papal visit made pilgrims from Italy and also from distant countries, even from America and the Philippines, come to Manopello. Within one year ca. 600,000 believers came to our shrine. Besides, we began receiving many letters with requests for postcards and pictures. That’s why we decided to translate the information about the shrine and the relic of the Holy Countenance into 10 languages. The next step was to organise a web page in four languages (www.voltosanto.it) where we put the news about our activities and initiatives as well as results of the latest research of the Veil. We also publish the periodical ‘Holy Countenance from Manopello.’
The publication of three books about the Veil from Manopello in Germany (their authors being the journalist Paul Badde, Sr. Blandina and Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, a Jesuit), made the Germans be interested in our shrine. One of the most meaningful phenomena was Polish pilgrims – almost every day a coach with Polish believers comes here (sometimes even several coaches). In Poland seven books concerning Manopello have already been published, which testifies about the great interest of the Polish people in our shrine.
– Has any modern research concerning the Veil, which has been under your custody for over 300 years, been conducted?
– Yes, it has. We decided to conduct various research but without ‘touching’ the Veil itself. The scientists from the University of L’Aquili prepared a photographic documentation, using infra-red radiation. We are waiting for the results of the research. The Veil was analysed with a laser. It is the Ramana spectroscopy, which enables to define through a diagram the composition of the examined material. Two such examinations have been made and the results were the same – in all analysed points the protein of byssus-fibre, i.e. ‘marine silk’ was discovered. Our shrine was also visited by the Polish photographer Zbigniew Treppa, the director of the Department of the Semiotics of Picture and Audiovisual Techniques from the University of Gdansk, who wants to prove through photography that the Veil from Manopello is not a painting.
– Has the research you spoke about confirmed that the Veil is not a painting?
– Yes, it has because no traces of minerals or other substance except the single protein have been found. And we are almost 100 % sure that it was the protein of the byssus-fibre. I would like to mention another examination. A scientist from the Italian National Research Centre took tri-dimensional photos to determine the thickness of the cloth and its layers. We are waiting for the results of these experiments and they can be interesting.
– Do you consider opening the reliquary in which the Veil is kept so that the cloth can be directly examined?
– So far we have not decided to do that since there is a risk to damage the Veil.
– Who takes decisions concerning the Veil from Manoppello: the Capuchins, i.e. the custodians of the relic, or the local bishop (Bishop Chieti) or perhaps the Holy See?
– We are the custodians of the shrine and that’s why the main responsibility falls on our provincial. But when an important decision must be taken it is taken collegially. It is the result of collaboration with the local bishop, the provincial and the rector of the shrine.
– How has the wave of pilgrims who come to Manoppello from all over the world changed the pastoral activities of this shrine that used to be a local one?
– During his pilgrimage Benedict XVI elevated our shrine to the status of basilica. This title brings the privilege of plenary indulgence, which can be granted on certain days: feasts connected with the Holy Countenance (third Sunday of May and 6 August), papal feasts (22 February – St Peter’s Cathedral and 29 June – St Peter’s and Paul’s), 19 April (the electoral day of the present Pope), 29 September (consecration of the church) and 22 September (elevation of the shrine to a basilica); one day a year is appointed by the bishop and every pilgrim can also choose one day of indulgence (it means that every pilgrim receives plenary indulgence once a year outside of the above-mentioned dates). Our pastoral work focuses on the spiritual meaning of the Holy Countenance in our lives. That means that two fathers out of 6 priests that form our community are present in the church all the time to receive pilgrims. Our confessors have more work because of the increased number of pilgrims. The problem is that all our fathers are Italians. Some know Spanish and English a little but we need someone that would know other languages, especially Polish.
– I hope that the Capuchin superiors will respond to your appeal and send you a Polish priest so that he could serve Polish pilgrims in the place where we can contemplate the real Holy Face of Christ.