Within the center of St. Peter’s Basilica are four massive niches. In each niche there are four titanic statues of saints, standing 10 meters high: St. Andrew, the first disciple called by Christ, St. Longinus, the soldier who pierced Jesus’s side with his lance, St. Helena, who discovered the True Cross. The fourth statue depicts “St. Veronica,” an unknown woman, not mentioned in the Bible, yet immortalized in every Catholic church at the Sixth Station of the Cross, for her act of compassion to Jesus who left the image of His Face on her veil.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote this beautiful meditation on St. Veronica in 2000, the same year in which he dedicated the millennium to the Face of Christ:
Veronica does not appear in the Gospels. Her name is not mentioned, even though the names of other women who accompanied Jesus do appear.
It is possible, therefore, that the name refers more to what the woman did. In fact, according to tradition, on the road to Calvary a woman pushed her way through the soldiers escorting Jesus and with a veil wiped the sweat and blood from the Lord’s face. That face remained imprinted on the veil, a faithful reflection, a “true icon”. This would be the reason for the name Veronica.
If this is so, the name which evokes the memory of what this woman did carries with it the deepest truth about her.
One day, Jesus drew the criticism of onlookers when he defended a sinful woman who had poured perfumed oil on his feet and dried them with her hair. To those who objected, he replied: “Why do you trouble this woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me . . . In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Mt 26:10, 12). These words could likewise be applied to Veronica. Thus we see the profound eloquence of this event.
The Redeemer of the world presents Veronica with an authentic image of his face. The veil upon which the face of Christ remains imprinted becomes a message for us.
In a certain sense it says: This is how every act of goodness, every gesture of true love toward’s one’s neighbor, strengthens the likeness of the Redeemer of the world in the one who acts that way. Acts of love do not pass away. Every act of goodness, of understanding, of service leaves on people’s hearts an indelible imprint and makes us ever more like the One who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). This is what shapes our identity and gives us our true name.
This is the deep meaning and call to every Christian revealed in the presence of the unknown woman we call “St. Veronica”– each act of charity, every act of compassion will leave the imprint of the Face of Jesus in our souls, transforming us into His own Image.