“The Polar Star of Christianity” – The Face of Mercy

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Veil of Manoppello (hand of Kurt Cardinal Koch seen through transparent veil) Photo: Paul Badde

“We saw in the Face the mercy of God”: A dialogue with Cardinal Koch

Paul Badde interviews the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity on a special event
By Paul Badde
(Manoppello, September 2016 / 9:15 a.m.)

Kurt Cardinal Koch observes the transparency of the Veil of Manoppello. Photo: Paul Badde
Kurt Cardinal Koch observes the transparency of the Veil of Manoppello. Photo: Paul Badde

In 2017, it will be 500 years since in the West the Lutheran brothers and sisters began to separate themselves from the Pope and from the Roman Catholic Church. However, even older than the Reformation and the division of the Western Church is the Great Schism of the East, and the division of Christianity into the Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West, which occurred in 1054 between Rome and Constantinople. Only on December 7, 1965 Pope Paul VI from Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras from Istanbul solemnly cancelled the reciprocal anathemas “from the memory and from the center of the Church” “abandoning them to oblivion.” But the Eastern Church and the Western Church remained estranged, above all from the cultural point of view. Now, however, at the invitation of Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, on September 18, 2016, seventy Orthodox bishops celebrated the “Divine Liturgy” of Saint John Chrysostom under the Face of Christ, there exposed above the principal altar, together with two cardinals and numerous other prelates of the Roman Catholic Church in the Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello.

CNA: Lord Cardinal, Archbishop Bruno Forte calls the “Holy Face” of Christ “the polar star of Christianity.” For him, there is no reasonable cause to doubt that the image on the veil is the sudario of Christ that John cites in the Holy Sepulchre near the burial clothes. But is it not also a provocation for the Orthodox brothers?

Cardinal Koch: Christians believe in one God who showed his concrete face in Jesus Christ. When we know more closely the Face of Christ and when we more deeply identify ourselves with him, the more deeply we become one, as well. For this is a miraculous event to be in front of the Face of Christ, to pray, to venerate the Face, because it fulfills his [Christ’s] desire that we be one.

Catholics have something to bring to the Orthodox. Also for the Orthodox it is so, as for instance for their culture of the veneration of icons. Could it be that from this day forward also in the Catholic Church the images can come to be understood and evaluated in a new way – in the midst of that mighty “Iconic Turn” that the experts of communication today note, in which the images expect a general role in communications like never before?
Yes, the very profound mystery of ecumenism is an exchange of gifts. Today the Church has her gifts. And a particular gift the Orthodox have are the icons. So I think that also many Christians in the West can find a new access to the icons and thus deepening the faith. It is a great gift. It is very important that we also re-evaluate the images in the Western tradition. With the Reform of the sixteenth century, we have placed a whole new accent on the word. But the Word has become flesh, the Word became visible, so also the images belong to the faith. This is a gift from the Orthodox that we welcome gratefully.
At Chieti, in these recent days the delicate question of the theological and ecclesiological relations between primacy and synodality in the life of the Church, then the role of Peter and that of all bishops, was discussed within the commission that has come on pilgrimage to Manoppello. Ten years ago Peter came here in the vesture of Pope Benedict. Since then, there has been an enormous turning point in the evaluation of this image of Manoppello that has become famous throughout the world. What significance do you think will be given to this day of pilgrimage, in which the synod of bishops gathered here?
It is very beautiful that we could come here on this anniversary ten years later. Pope Benedict came in the name of the whole Catholic Church. Today is present here the Church of the East and of the West. So this anniversary maybe can also help in the search for the unity between the Church in the East and the Church in the West.
You, as president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, are responsible to Rome for ecumenism. In this regard, Pope Francis affirmed: “Look at Christ and go ahead with courage!” Which next step would indicate to you today to go with courage to encounter Christ, in a day in which notwithstanding the difference between the Eastern Church and the Western Church you have come together before this image?
In reality, we are always on the way towards Christ. Because it is His Will that we find unity, it is not a human project. Christ himself on the eve of His Passion prayed that His disciples might be one, that the world might believe. The credibility of this testimony depends on the fact that we are one. This is also a particular request of Pope Francis, when he says that when we can walk on the same road toward Christ, then we find unity.
Misericordiae Vultus”: with these first Latin words begins the Bull of Indiction with which Pope Francis announced this year of the Jubilee of Mercy. The “Face of Mercy” has given to this year a very particular meaning. What do you sense today being here before the merciful gaze of Jesus, who looks at us from this wonderful veil?
It is a magnificent message that we can have a merciful God, for which we know that there are no cases without hope. Per as long as a man can fall down, he can never fall lower than the hands of God. Now you can really see this face, encounter it, it is naturally a marvelous deepening of this message of the Holy Year. The men of today need nothing more than the mercy of God. And if they can look on the Face of the merciful God it is a marvelous gift.
And what will you tell Pope Francis about this event in case you will have the opportunity?
I will certainly tell him that we saw in the Face his great message of the mercy of God. And that this Face is important for the whole Church. It is in a certain way the manifesto of the Church: the merciful Face of God!

Kurt Cardinal Koch contemplates the Holy Veil of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde
Kurt Cardinal Koch contemplates the Holy Veil of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde

(Re-printed with the Author’s permission) Translation from the Italian by Fr. Daren J. Zehnle

 

“I pray that they all may be one” –John 17:21

The Holy Face of Jesus on a miraculous veil in Manoppello, Italy bought together over seventy Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bishops to celebrate Divine Liturgy and for theological dialogue on September 18th, 2016, taking one more important step toward fulfilling the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper “that all may be one.” (Jn. 17:21)

A Sacred Dream – Originally at Catholic News Agency, re-printed here with permission of the author, Paul Badde

Veil of Manoppello photo: Paul Badde
Veil of Manoppello
photo: Paul Badde

A Sacred Dream by Paul Badde

It was a single word that brought about the decisive split between the Eastern and Western churches. It happened in May 581, at the Council of Toledo, when the bishops of the Visigoth kingdom added the Latin word “filioque” to the then-200-year-old Catholic creed of the Council of Nicea-Constantinople.

In English, the word means: “and the Son.” Ever since that day, Christians of the West pray in their creed: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” whereas in the Eastern Churches to this day they pray: “We believe in the Holy spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” This addition first attained the rank of dogma under Pope Benedict VIII, and then again in 1215, by which time alienation between East and West had substantially increased.

However, it was but this single word that became both a stumbling block and a milestone in the separation process between the Eastern and Western Church. Thousands upon thousands of highly erudite words only further deepened the rift and never could heal it.

Metropolitan Job Getcha of Talmessos giving homily. Photo: Daniel Ibanez (CNA/EWTN) Photo:
Metropolitan Job Getcha of Telmessos giving homily. Photo: Daniel Ibanez (CNA/EWTN)

But this week, in a quiet ceremony unnoticed by most media, a single image brought the Eastern and Western Church together in way that arguably has never happened before. On this Sunday, Sept. 18, in the small town of Manoppello in the Abruzzi mountains, 70 Orthodox bishops celebrated, together with two cardinals and many Roman Catholic bishops and clergymen, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom before the image of the “Holy Face.” The holy veil had been hidden for more than 300 years in a side chapel of St Michael’s Church, until, after the great earthquake of 1915, it was publicly displayed for the first time again, in the year 1923, over the main altar of a newly constructed building, where it can be visited and adored every day.

Pope Benedict XVI Visit to the Holy Face of Manoppello in 2006
Pope Benedict XVI Visit to the Holy Face of Manoppello in 2006

Ten years after the September 2006 visit of Pope Benedict XVI, this visit of a mixed Orthodox synod, together with their Latin brothers, marked a most significant event in the process of re-discovery of this mysterious, original icon of Christ. It had long been worshiped in Constantinople as “Hagion Mandylion,” and later in Rome as “Sanctissimum Sudarium,” before it was also given the name of “Sancta Veronica Ierosolymitana.”

There were metropolitans and bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (from Finland, Estonia, Crete, Patmos, Malta, Great Britain, America, Australia, the Exarchate of the Philippines, from Europe and from Mount Athos) and patriarchs, metropolitans and archbishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem, the autonomous Church of Mount Sinai, and the Orthodox churches of Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Cyprus, Romania, Greece Poland, Albania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, which came before the Holy Face and celebrated the Eucharist. Only the Bulgarian Church had sent no representative.

The antiphons of the liturgy were in Italian, Russian, Greek, English, Romanian and French. In his homily, given in English, Metropolitan Job Getcha of Telmessos, who headed the service as representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, praised the “image of Christ, not made by human hand” of Manoppello. He pointed out that – according to some scholars – the Image is identical with that of the Soudarion from the Gospel of the Resurrection according to John, while another tradition holds that a certain Veronica wiped the face of Jesus with this veil on his way to the Cross, though she is not mentioned in the canonical Gospels.

Archbishop Bruno Forte from nearby Chieti knows that neither bloodstains nor any residue of paint can be found in the veil. It had been his idea and initiative to bring the bishops before the face of Christ, which he likes to praise as the “North Star of Christendom.” He invited the group to Manoppello and had given the visitors a scholarly introduction on the bus trip from his diocesan town of Chieti to Manoppello.

In Chieti, the pilgrims had all participated in the 14th General Assembly of a Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. They had discussed a document entitled “Towards a common understanding of synodality and primacy in the service of the unity of the Church.” It was a debate that began in the previous plenary meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman in 2014 and was continued in 2015 in Rome. The Commission is the official organ of the theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. It was founded in 1979 and unites 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches, which are each represented by two theologians who are mostly bishops, together with Catholic representatives.

And now the same group practically traced, as a synodal pilgrimage, that first spectacular step towards the face of Christ that Benedict XVI undertook ten years ago, against much resistance, the first pope to do so after more than 400 years.

His successor Pope Francis later – on Nov 30, 2014 while flying from Istanbul back to Rome – told journalists travelling with him: “Be careful: the Church does not have a light of its own. She needs to gaze upon Jesus Christ! On that path, we must move forward courageously.”

And following on this path, the Divine Liturgy before the Divine Face this Sunday became a milestone of reconciliation on the way to unity. Heavy rainfall had been announced. But only a few drops ended up falling.

“Pray for the Christians in the Middle East as you pray before the Holy Face. They are suffering unspeakably,” an Oriental bishop said right after the final blessing to the German sister Petra-Maria Steiner, who introduces countless pilgrims to the mystery of the light of this image in Manoppello. Earlier, at the conclusion of the celebration, Anatoliy Grytskiv, Protopresbyter of Chieti, had hailed the “miracle” of the encounter in a passionate summary in Italian.

Miraculous Holy Face Veil of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde
Miraculous Holy Face Veil of Manoppello Photo: Paul Badde

Whereto from here? “Today we have gazed upon the face of God,” Cardinal Kurt Koch told CNA outside the main entrance of the Basilica after the celebration. “Probably only in view of the face of the Redeemer may unity come about. But surely it will be difficult. After all this is like a divorce, after you have grown apart – it is hard to get back together. In this case…thousand years of separation are standing between us.”

Kurt Cardinal Koch Photo: Daniel Ibanez (CNA/EWTN)
Kurt Cardinal Koch
Photo: Daniel Ibanez (CNA/EWTN)

“Yes, but fortunately it is said in the Scriptures: A thousand years are with the Lord as one day,” Sister Petra-Maria responded with a smile to the cardinal’s sober skepticism. “Perhaps now the new day of unity arises. With God, nothing is impossible. Perhaps today we have seen the dawn of this new day. This new beginning is as thin and delicate as the Volto Santo.”

Were it so, the image of Christ would indeed have briefly bridged that abyss on this Sunday, an abyss carved out, like a primeval river, by the countless words between East and West, a Grand Canyon into the very foundation of Christianity.

At those very depths, the holy “sudarium” might yet intervene, in a healing fashion, in the ancient Filioque controversy about that first word of separation. For if the veil, as John writes, was indeed lying in the grave of Christ, on the face of the Lord, it must also have absorbed the first breath of the Risen One – when the Spirit of God woke Jesus Christ from the dead – as that Spirit that is the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

photo by Patricia Enk
photo by Patricia Enk

(Original article may be read by clicking here.)

The Holy Capuchin of Manoppello – Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese

Venerable Padre Domenico da Cese 1915-1978
Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese 1915-1978
Holy Face of Manoppello Photo: Patricia Enk
Holy Face of Manoppello
Photo: Patricia Enk

September 17th marks the anniversary of the death of the Holy Capuchin priest of Manoppello–the Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese. Like his friend and fellow Capuchin, St. Padre Pio, the humble Padre Domenico was a mystic and stigmatist who had extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.

(For more about St. Padre Pio’s last case of bilocation and Padre Domenico click here.)

As a nine year old boy in 1915, Padre Domenico predicted the devastating Avenzzano earthquake in Italy. A 6.7 earthquake hit that region the next morning, killing more than 30,000 people, including two of his sisters and burying him and his father in the rubble of their church.  A man he didn’t know pulled him from the rubble to safety, whose face he later recognized on his first visit as a friar to the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello. When Padre Domenico knelt before the “Il Volto Santo” or Face of Jesus, the miraculous veil, he exclaimed, “This is the man who saved me from the rubble!” He remained at the Shrine as Rector until the time of his death in 1978.  To learn more about his incredible life and passionate love for the Holy Face you can watch this wonderful video of his life, “The Long Road of Fr. Domenico, from Cese to Turin” by clicking here.

Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese, Pray for us!
Servant of God, Padre Domenico da Cese…
Pray for us!

Mass of the Roses in honor of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face

Fr. Ephrem Arcement, OSB (from 2015 Mass of the Roses)
Fr. Ephrem Arcement, OSB (from 2015 Mass of the Roses)

FullSizeRender-27It’s time once again for the annual Mass of the Roses in honor of St. Therese “The Little Flower! This year’s celebration will be held on Sunday, October 2nd at the Discalced Carmelite Nuns Monastery on River Road in Covington, Louisiana.  St. Therese, whose Feast Day is October 1st, was a French Discalced Carmelite Nun who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.  She became a Saint and Doctor of the Church, inspiring others by her “Little Way” of doing small things with great love to attain holiness. She promised that when she died “a shower of roses” would fall from Heaven in the graces obtained through her intercession.

“Your Face is my only wealth, I ask nothing more.  Hiding myself in it unceasingly, I will resemble You, Jesus.  Leave in me, the Divine Impress of Your features filled with sweetness, and soon I’ll become holy.  I shall draw hearts to You.” — St. Therese of The Child Jesus and The Holy Face

Children getting ready for procession with their roses photo: Patricia Enk
Children getting ready for procession with their roses
photo: Patricia Enk

This year’s Mass of Roses will be a triple celebration; not only in honor of St. Therese, but also in honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Golden Jubilee of Sr. Joan!  Shuttle service from off-site parking to the Monastery will be available beginning a 8:15 am.  At 9:00 am  there will be a flute prelude by Sr. Grace, OCD and Sarah Schettler, LPO.  Holy Eucharist will be celebrated at 9:30 am with Fr. Louis Arcement, CM as the main celebrant.  Immediately following Mass, the children are invited to join in procession, carrying roses to the altar  to be blessed and distributed.47a6df10b3127cce98549cbf575400000030100azngjvs2auwgg

Handmade quilt by Carolyn Pelzex (mother of Sr. Grace!) for silent auction
Handmade quilt by Carolyn Pelzek (mother of Sr. Grace!) for silent auction. 3ft x 3ft

Delicious refreshments will be served after the Mass, thanks to many gracious sponsors and volunteers.  Hand-made items by the sisters, as well as cookies, pies and bread from the Sister’s kitchen will be for sale as well as a variety of religious article, books and gifts. A  children’s area will be set up for face-painting, artwork and other fun activities. A special table will also be set up for Holy Face books, Chaplets, Images and Medals.

St. Therese Icon by Patricia Enk for this years silent auction
St. Therese Icon by Patricia Enk for this years silent auction

Although, St. Therese is more commonly known for her way of “Spiritual Childhood” and devotion to The Child Jesus, her sister, Mother Agnes gave this testimony for St. Therese’ beatification:

“Devotion to the Holy Face was the Servant of God’s special attraction.  As tender as was her devotion to the Child Jesus, it cannot be compared to her devotion to the Holy Face.” 

"Holy Face of Tours"

“Holy Face of Tours”

St. Therese’ sister Celine (Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face), also wrote that “Devotion to the Holy Face was, for Therese, the crown and complement of her love for the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord.  The Blessed Face was the mirror wherein she beheld the Heart and Soul of her Well-Beloved.  Just as the picture of a loved one serves to bring the whole person before us, so in the Holy Face of Christ Therese beheld the entire Humanity of Jesus.  We can say unequivocally that this devotion was the burning inspiration of the Saint’s life… Her devotion to the Holy Face transcended, or more accurately, embraced, all the other attractions of her spiritual life.”

Prayer of St. Therese to The Holy Face

“O adorable Face of Jesus, sole beauty which ravishes my heart, vouchsafe to impress on my soul Your divine likeness so that it may not be possible for You to look at Your spouse without beholding Yourself!  O my Beloved, for love of You I am content not to see here on earth the sweetness of Your glance, nor to feel the ineffable kiss of Your sacred lips, but I beg of You to inflame me with Your love so that it may consume me quickly and that soon I may behold Your glorious countenance in Heaven.” 47a6df10b3127cce98549ce7570c00000030100azngjvs2auwgg

Please join us if you are in the neighborhood for this joyous occasion!!!

Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 8

Pt. 8: Seeking the Face of the Father in Rome

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

“Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s mercy.  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.” –Pope Francis, Face of Mercy

The final stop of our pilgrimage was Rome and to enter the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of the Assumption.  Most pilgrims to Italy begin their pilgrimage in Rome, but there was a reason that I chose St. Peter’s for the final destination of our pilgrimage and it had to do with the pope.  Sometimes our motivation for doing things isn’t always clear, not even to ourselves.  It was upon reflection, in hindsight, that I understood why the order of the pilgrimage and also why seeing the Holy Father last, was so important to me.

Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello Photo: Patricia Enk
Veil of the Holy Face of Manoppello
Photo: Patricia Enk

Looking back on our pilgrimage for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we began with the image of the Face of Jesus in the Veil of Manoppello.  The bible tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man–Jesus Christ. (1 Tim 2:5) The Face of Jesus Christ is like a Door of Mercy–the face of the Church, through which we reach the Father.  We enter this “door” through devotion to the Holy Face through prayers and contemplation of the wounded Face of Jesus; by discipleship, to see Jesus in the Face of our neighbors, in the poor, the sick and the suffering; and through the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, from which we draw the grace and strength needed for our journey.  Then our faces, too, become like a “door” to our hearts and souls, and can radiate the Face of Jesus, the Face of Mercy to others.  Therefore, the “door” of the Face of Jesus was the best place for us to begin, the start of the journey.

Adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ in Loreto
Adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ in Loreto

After the sanctuary of Manoppello there were other steps along our path to seek the Face of God. The next step was Loreto–entering the door of the Holy Home in Nazareth.  God himself chose Mary as the ark of His dwelling place, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in this home.  Through Mary and the Holy Family we learn the examples of humility, obedience, and love. Here we saw the Face of Jesus in the Eucharist and in the sick and suffering.

Face of Jesus in Assisi photo: Paul Badde
Face of Jesus in Assisi
photo: Paul Badde

Next was Assisi–a powerful reminder of the Communion of Saints.  We are not alone in our quest to see the Face of God but have brothers and sisters in Heaven who have gone before us and are ready to help us if we only ask their help and guidance in trials and tribulations.  Their example encourages us to be a consolation and help, or a “Veronica,” to Jesus in our brothers and sisters here on earth. Reminding us that “…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Mt. 25:40)

Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk
Catching a glimpse of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
Catching a glimpse of the Holy Father, Pope Francis “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him…”(Lk.15:20)

And lastly, Rome.  Every year millions upon millions of people go to Rome just to get even a little glimpse of the pope. Most people consider those who actually have met the pope very fortunate. Why? After all, he is just a man like any other man, isn’t he? Well, yes and no.  Yes, Jorge Bergolio is a man, but as Pope Francis he is the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and, whoever sees Jesus, sees the Father. (Jn. 14:9)  In a way, by seeking out the face of the pope, his words, and his blessing, we are seeking the Face of Our Father in Heaven.  All mankind has been created in the image and likeness of God and we have a natural longing, therefore, to see His Face; to enter into relationship with Him.  When the Word of God became man in Jesus Christ, at the Incarnation, what was previously impossible (to see God) became possible. In God’s infinite mercy He has not left us orphans; in and through Jesus He has given us His Church, His ministers, and His sacraments, so that is possible for us here on earth, albeit in an imperfect way, to see His Face.

Our pilgrimage mirrored the journey of the Christian soul on earth: through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints toward the Face of the Father. Our pilgrimage did not end in Rome, but begins anew each day.  We continue to seek His Face by taking up our cross and following Him in the hope that finally one day we will have the joy of truly seeing Him as He is in eternal glory.

Pilgrims carrying the Jubilee of Mercy Cross into the Holy Door of St. Peter's
Pilgrims carrying the Jubilee of Mercy Cross into the Holy Door of St. Peter’s

In Gratitude to God

“The grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him for everlasting life. To the King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever.” (1 Tim. 1:14-17)

Christus Imperat! photo: Patricia Enk
Christus Imperat!
photo: Patricia Enk

 

Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 7

Pt. 7: Among the Lions of Assisi

A lamb among lions on the steps of San Pietro, Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
A lamb among lions on the steps of San Pietro, Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk
IMG_5796
Assisi, Photo: Patricia Enk

The peacefulness and beauty of the city of Assisi is legendary.  Around every corner there is an idyllic walkway, filled with flowers, ancient arches, and charming vignettes to beguile the pilgrim.  But there is danger beneath this serene facade. Assisi is filled with lions!  They are everywhere; in fountains, as sentries by stone walls, crouching at doorways.  The medieval city that was known to St. Francis and St. Clare, was built on pagan Roman ruins. Pagan temples and ruins are beneath the feet of pilgrims as they enter churches such as Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and San Rufino. But, the lions are out in the open, a symbol of the strength and power of ancient Rome and a silent reminder today of the persecution of Christians and the many martyrs who chose death rather than deny their faith.

Lion and Martyr, Church of San Rufino, Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
Lion and Martyr, Church of San Rufino, Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk

Before entering the Holy Door of San Rufino Church, one can’t help but to contemplate the lions at the center door; one is eating a lamb, the other gnawing on the face of a Christian–a graphic reminder of the ultimate blasphemy and goal of the evil one, which is to attempt to destroy the image of the Face of God in souls.

San Rufino, the first bishop of Assisi, was also a martyr, who died for the faith in 296.  Martyrdom is not, however, something from the distant past; it is tragically present in our world today in ever-increasing numbers. We were reminded of this fact as we stood in the long security line to enter St. Francis’s Basilica and other holy sites.  Armed soldiers were ever present, automatic weapons in hand, to try to maintain a peace; to protect the lambs from the lions.

Security in Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
Security in Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk

I have read many statistics on the number of Christians martyred: Seventy million since the time of Christ, most of them in the past century, an estimated “one every five minutes” according to a 2015 report by Christian Freedom International.  I don’t know how these statistics are gathered, but one need only turn on the evening news to see a new report of Christians being killed in the world.

In the face of so much suffering and persecution some may ask the question, “Where is your God?” Take another look at the photo at the top of the baby between the lions.  Although the baby and the viewer are perhaps unaware; the father’s loving presence is there–seen only in shadow.  We too, are often unaware of the Father’s loving presence and concern.  He has sent us, just as He sent His only Son, as a lamb among lions.

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(to be continued in Rome: Pt. 8)

Saint Mother Teresa – Saint of Mercy!

Seek the Face of God in everything!

 Saint Mother Teresa "Saint of Mercy"
Saint Mother Teresa
“Saint of Mercy”

“Seeking the Face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening; this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world.  Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”   

                        –Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Pray for us!

For more about Saint Mother Teresa and the Merciful Face of Jesus click here.

Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 6

Pt. 6:  In Assisi – St. Francis “also had a Veronica”

St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi

Assisi is an incredible and beautifully preserved medieval city, known best as the place where St. Francis was born, lived, and died. I had been in Assisi once before, in 2010, but during that time I saw only one site outside of the hotel–the tomb of St. Francis. There was a reason for that odd behavior, which I will explain. But, for this pilgrimage, I had wanted to include Assisi for the Year of Mercy pilgrimage, in thanksgiving to God for His infinite mercy, and for providing us here on earth with the help and friendship of the communion of saints in our most difficult trials on life’s journey.

Now, to explain why I had only seen St. Francis’s tomb on a previous pilgrimage–In 2010 I had been traveling with my husband and three youngest children, together with a pilgrimage group, primarily to see the Shroud of Turin, which at Pope Benedict XVI’s request, was being exhibited that year. While on the pilgrimage, my third son, back in the States, had fallen very ill. He had gone to the hospital and had been told it was most likely a virus from which he would eventually recover, but as the days went by, unable to eat, suffering from fever and chills; he could no longer even take care of himself. When we learned of the situation (communication was very difficult) we arranged for another older son to travel to help him, thinking any day he would improve.  However, it soon became clear there was something more serious going on. Jaundiced and very weak, he had lost nearly thirty pounds. He was dying. Doctors could find no cause for his illness from looking at x-rays and MRIs. One doctor reluctantly began an emergency exploratory surgery as there was nothing else left to do.

Altar in front of the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi
Altar in front of the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi

By the time we received this terrible news we were nearing the end of our trip and had arrived in Assisi.  Beset with grief and anxiety, unable to do anything for my son at that time, but pray, I went weeping to the tomb of St. Francis.  I prayed and cried, cried and prayed the entire day.  The friar stationed at the desk near the tomb gave me strange looks, for which I can hardly blame him.  I must have been a sight. When I tired of kneeling, I got up and walked along the tomb, and begged the intercession of the friends of St. Francis, as well, who are entombed in the surrounding walls.  Toward the back, behind the altar, in the same enclosure as the tomb of St. Francis, I found a name: “Here lies Jacoba, a holy Roman Noblewoman.”  A woman? Buried in the tomb by St. Francis? I knew nothing about her, but figured she must be someone holy if she’s buried with the saint, so I begged her intercession as well.

Toward evening we received news from the hospital–the surgeon had discovered that our son’s appendix had ruptured, weeks before, in an undetectable manner, leaking toxins into his body and closing off the portal vein to his liver.  He was still a very sick young man, but would recover.  (His recovery took nearly three months.)  I felt certain that I owed St. Francis  and the saints at his tomb a debt of gratitude for petitioning, on my behalf, for my son before the throne of God–which is why I wanted to return one day to offer thanks.  So, the day had come when we could give thanks at St. Francis’s tomb. We knelt in gratitude before the altar, and this time with the additional joy of thanksgiving that our son and his wife had just had their first child,a son.

Frate Jacopa de Settesoli
Frate Jacoba de Settesoli

We went on to see what I had missed in the Basilica; the incredible frescoes and relics. In the Relic Chapel after seeing St. Francis’s patched and tattered tunic and other precious relics, I stood in front of a display case which contained a beautifully embroidered silken veil and read the name, “Jacoba Settesoli.” I read on, “Like Jesus on his way to Calvary, Francis also had a Veronica.” (Veronica is the woman, tradition tells us, who wiped the Face of Jesus. She is the model of those who make reparation to the Face of Christ.)

Lady Jacoba was a noblewoman and widow, with two children from Rome, who became a follower of St. Francis. After having heard him preach she sought his guidance on how to be charitable.  When Francis traveled to Rome, he would stay with Lady Jacoba as her guest and she cared for him when he was sick. She gave some of her property in Trastevere to the brothers, which they used to care for lepers.  She gave up her life of comfort in order to help the poor.  Woman were not normally permitted to be in company of the brothers, however, St. Francis made an exception in her case, jokingly referring to her as “Brother Jacoba.”

As Francis lay dying he sent an urgent letter by messenger to Lady Jacoba: “Brother Jacoba, the servant of the Most High, health in the Lord and communion in the Holy Ghost.  Dearest, I want you to know that the blessed Lord has done the grace of revealing that the end of my life is nigh.  So, if you want to find me still alive, hurry to Santa Maria degli Angeli as soon as you receive this letter.”  He went on to request that she bring a gray cloth to wrap his body in, candles for burial, and almond cookies that she had made for him in Rome when he was sick. Before the messenger arrived in Rome, Lady Jacoba had already anticipated St. Francis’s needs by the light of the  Holy Spirit and was on her way to Francis’s deathbed.

St. Francis’s biographer, Bl. Thomas Celano, wrote that Lady Jacoba brought not only the gray cloth, the candles, and the almond cookies, but also a pillow for his head, and a “sindomen pro facie” (a veil to cover his face in death, which was displayed in the Relic Chapel). So, St. Francis, an alter Christus who bore the stigmata, also had his “Veronica” in Lady Jacoba, who brought him consolation in his passion.  (to be continued in Pt. 7)

The bells of the church of St. Stephen the Martyr which rang by themselves when St. Francis died.
The bells of the church of St. Stephen the Martyr in Assisi which rang by themselves when St. Francis died.

 

 

 

 

Pilgrimage – A Journey toward the Face of God, Pt. 5

Pt. 5: The temple of the Holy Spirit in LoretoIMG_0611

Silent, peaceful, humble, gentle, pure…Immaculate! These words describe Mary, the first temple of the Holy Spirit, and may also be applied to the Holy House of Loreto as well.  One has a great sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit resting in this place. There is something very touching about the respectful way that the pilgrims silently enter the Holy House. They then stand or kneel, leaning against, or touching the holy walls in order to feel closer to Mary–touching the very walls that the Holy Family touched.  Just before the bells for the Angelus ring, the Holy House fills completely and the Angelus is recited, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace…” Here the Holy Face of Jesus was formed and hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How great was her longing to see the Face of her Son and Messiah!

Back wall, with "Gabriel window" of the Holy House
Back wall, with “Gabriel window” of the Holy House

“The House of the Holy Family! It was the first temple, the first church, on which the Mother of God shed her light through motherhood. She irradiated it with the light which comes from the great mystery of the Incarnation; from the mystery of her Son.”–Pope St. John Paul II

Our Lady of Loreto
Our Lady of Loreto

The grand exterior of the Basilica hides a message, just as it hides the humble Holy House in its bosom; it is a message for all pilgrims, that we must become like Mary, whose soul proclaimed only “the greatness of the Lord” (Lk. 1:46-55). The humble, simple work of everyday life was sanctified here, where the Face of God was present each day within the family. God was attracted by Mary’s lowliness and “He who is mighty” did great things for her–now all generations call her blessed!

Year of Mercy volunteers were available near the entrance of the Holy Door and handed us a very helpful pamphlet in English guiding us through the Basilica, both physically and spiritually. Using the guide, we offered prayers at particularly meaningful chapels beginning with the Baptismal Font inside the Holy Door where we renewed our baptismal promises. We spent the entire day in that sacred place and probably only saw a fraction of the beautiful artwork and craftsmanship lavished on the chapels, each one vying to give greater glory to God by the work of talented hands of many countries of the world.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share as a common phrase I heard in English everywhere was, “No photos, please!”

There is one more thing I’d like to mention about Loreto before moving on to Assisi and that is this: pilgrimages are filled not only with minor inconveniences, or events meant to help us grow in virtue, but also signs.  Signposts, you might say, along the pilgrimage path to remind us to keep going in the right direction.  We had a big sign, right outside the window of our hotel; it was not only one of sight, but of also sound–in fact, a never-ending “coo,” “coo,” “coo,” “coo.”  There was a pigeon coop directly outside the window of our room for some reason. Whereas Mary was a temple of the Holy Spirit, our temples, it seemed were more like a pigeon coop: Noisy, messy and in need of regular cleaning.  I’d say it was a good reminder to go to Confession.  God isn’t always silent; sometimes, He speaks loud and clear. We couldn’t miss that one. (to be continued in Assisi Pt. 6)

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Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 4

Pt. 4: “Here the Word was made flesh” – The Holy House of Loreto

Pope Benedict XVI in the Holy House of Loreto
Pope Benedict XVI in the Holy House of Loreto

“While we too seek other signs, other wonders, we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human FACE.”–Pope Benedict XVI

Holy Face of Manoppello Photo: Patricia Enk
Holy Face of Manoppello
Photo: Patricia Enk

Our last morning in Manoppello the skies cleared and it promised to be a beautiful day and evening on which to hold the procession in honor of the Holy Veil.  After Mass I spoke again to Sr. Petra-Maria about the miraculous image.  The Holy Veil of Manoppello seems to be an icon written in light by the Holy Spirit, telling the whole of the Gospel in one human Face–the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He suffered and died for us, He rose again!  We walked slowly around the reliquary, looking at the Face of Jesus from each angle, His eyes following us.  I wondered if the world has gotten so accustomed to man-made marvels of technology, flashing images and special effects, that it can no longer recognize a true miracle.  Sr. Petra-Maria and I agreed that there was only one thing more marvelous and miraculous in this world than the Holy Veil and that is the continuing miracle of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist!

Sr. Petra-Maria had also had given me a glimmer of hope of attending the procession that nightIMG_5629 after all.  She said the Sanctuary of Loreto, where we were heading, was only an hour or so away.  We could possibly make it back for the procession after we checked into our hotel in Loreto.  I paid one more visit to the Holy Veil before regretfully parting. Later, we left Manoppello by taxi to pick up a rental car in Pescara and then drove north along the beautiful blue Adriatic Coast toward Loreto.  The drive was pleasant and filled with beautiful glimpses of the blue Adriatic.  About forty minutes into the drive, we suddenly slowed to a crawl–there had been an accident ahead that was being cleared.  The delay would take nearly 3 hours, making it too late to get back for the procession in Manoppello that night. For hundreds of years, the Veil of Manoppello was only taken out in procession once a year, on August 6th.  Later, there would be an additional procession on the third Sunday in May.  It had been very important to me, for reasons only God knows, to be part of that procession that evening, but now, it did not seem that it was God’s Will for us to be there.

The Basilica of the Holy House of Nazareth in Loreto, Italy
The Basilica of the Holy House of Nazareth in Loreto, Italy

The Basilica of Loreto soon appeared on the horizon and I turned my thoughts to the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit.  “The Holy House of Loreto, the first shrine of international renown dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, has been a true Marian center of Christianity for several centuries.”–Pope St. John Paul II  According to tradition, the Basilica contains the Holy House of Nazareth– it was the birthplace of Mary, the place of the Annunciation, where the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word in Mary’s womb took place through the power of the Holy Spirit, and it was the home of the Holy Family.

The Angel said t Mary: "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee." (Lk.1:35)
The Angel said to Mary: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” (Lk.1:35)

“And where could one speak more effectively of the Holy Spirit’s role than in the Shrine of Loreto, which recalls the moment and the place where He fulfilled the most supreme of His “life-giving” deeds, giving life to the humanity of the Saviour in Mary’s womb? For this reason the Holy House is first and foremost the shrine of the Holy Spirit. Christians who come here feel the need to invoke the Divine Paraclete to obtain His seven holy gifts in order to remain faithful to their baptism through which they were united to Christ and made to participate in His grace of Redemption.”–Pope St. John Paul II

If you have never heard of the Holy House of Loreto–to make a long history short–in 1291, when the Holy Home in Nazareth was in danger of being destroyed by the Muslims, it was transported by Angels across the Mediterranean Sea, then several more times before resting finally, on December 10th in 1294, in the middle of the road on the hill of Loreto.

Diagram of the Home of Loreto and the Grotto at Nazareth in the Holy Land highlighting that the two parts were contiguous and coexisted.

Research has discovered that the small home consists of three original brick walls, approximately three meters high, complete with graffiti and relics from the Crusaders in Holy Land and is standing without foundation on an ancient road. In it’s original form, the Holy House has only three walls because the eastern side, where the altar stands, opened onto a Grotto. (diagram) The structure and the brick of the home is not of the type found in the area of Loreto. A technical comparison between the Holy House of Loreto and the Grotto at Nazareth show the three walls and measurements match exactly the fourth wall, which is a grotto and the original foundation which can still be seen in Nazareth. (Diagram of the Home of Loreto and the Grotto at Nazareth in the Holy Land highlighting that the two parts were contiguous and coexisted.)

We entered the shrine, prayed in the Holy House and then again in the exquisitely beautiful French Chapel which contains the Blessed Sacrament.  After leaving the shrine to find something to eat (gelato for dinner works for me) we took a walk around the outside walls. I was still feeling a little sad about missing out on the procession in Manoppello when we came back along the side of the Basilica toward the piazza.  Lo’ and behold! I found myself in a procession!

Eucharistic procession and rosary for the sick and disabled
“In the Eucharist, the Face of Christ is turned toward us.”–St. J.P.II     Eucharistic procession and rosary for the sick and disabled

As the priest holding the monstrance made his way around the piazza he paused and blessed us.  By seeking Mary in the Holy House of Loreto, she had led me to the Eucharistic Face of her Son and the Face of Jesus in my neighbors around me.  The Holy Spirit was at work! I was able to honor Him in a procession of the Holy Face after all.  Praised be Jesus!  (…to be continued in Pt. 5)