There are certain Masses we all remember. Some of us remember our First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage and other special ones. I will always remember today when I took part in a Mass, concelebrated with 10 Italian priests in front of the Shroud of Turin at St. John the Baptist’s Cathedral. As we discovered yesterday, there is no need for a ticket to enter the main sanctuary of the Cathedral to venerate the Shroud, nor is there any reservation required for the daily Mass at 7 a.m.
Attending this Mass gives one a sense of wonderment when you stop and think about where this linen cloth has purported to be these last 20 centuries. How many people have stood before this bloodstained, ancient cloth and received the body and blood of Christ during Mass and then reflected upon what Christ did for us by dying on the Cross. His last moments before passing into His eternal reward are mysteriously etched onto the Shroud.
After Mass concludes each day, before the crowds are let in and given their three minutes in front of the Shroud, a Eucharistic procession takes place. The body of Christ is taken from the Cathedral to a special chapel next door where yesterday we went to confession and prayed in adoration. For one more month this solemn, ancient and spiritually enriching experience is available to anyone who has the desire and the means to come to Turin. The Holy Father Benedict XVI will be there on May 2nd and the Shroud goes back into safe keeping, away from public view until the year 2035 on May 23rd.
After Mass I ventured up to the nearest pews and prayed a final rosary and chaplet of Mercy for all the intentions of my family, friends and everyone who I am praying for through Catholic Exchange. It was with a heavy heart that I lifted myself off my knees to walk out of the Cathedral, knowing that I will never again see the “image not made by human hands” in my lifetime on earth. During my three days in Turin and my nearly three hours in front of the Shroud during four separate trips, I came to realize how much God has done for me, for all of us really, by suffering the way he did on the cross. The horrible wounds that are clearly visible on the linen cloth are a doorway for us, if we want to venture inside.
Leaving Turin for Pisa
I picked up our rental car, it is a FIAT, which is made in Turin. We packed our bags and the three girls and I had for the western coast of Italy. We drive down the mountainside through literally scores of tunnels and bridges with look out the window to see beautiful villas, olive groves and churches as backdrops. We zip through Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and decide to stop a little further south on a beach in a resort town called Massa. It is sprinkling today, but since we are landlubbers from North Dakota, we make the best of it and put our feet in the saltwater sea and feel the wet sand briefly on our bare feet. We hop in the FIAT and 45 minutes later we are before the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
What most people know is the leaning Tower of Pisa, well, leans. What most don’t know is the remarkable history of Pisa itself (it rivaled Rome for a time), the Cathedral adjacent to the tower, the giant Duomo and the other remarkable Catholic buildings.
We quickly get on the first tour to the top of the Leaning Tower and, despite the rainy weather, the view is spectacular. Built in 1173, it has survived over 800 years despite its almost immediate problem and subsequent efforts to stabilize the lean over the years. In the 1990s efforts to ensure its longevity paid off, at least for now.
A church has also existed on this site since 313 AD, but the current St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral was built in 1064. And when you walk inside, like every Italian Church we visited in Turin, your breath is immediately taken away. I could write an entire booklet about what I learned in the hour spent inside, but the two things that amazed me was St. Ranieri and an icon of the Madonna.
St. Ranieri lived in the 12th century and was proclaimed a saint about 100 years after his death. His relics, including some of his visible body parts are housed for all to see in a chapel that was built in the 16th century. You can see a picture of this in the links provided in this article.
The other even more remarkable painting is the “Virgin with Child” traditional icon that hangs in the front left of the Cathedral. The painting was originally in a castle and carried to the Cathedral in 1226 AD. It is a beautiful work of art and wasn’t even seen by the public for nearly 550 years because it was always wrapped in veils, which were never lifted, not even when it was carried in processions through the streets of Pisa. Only when the Grand Duke Leopold asked that she be “made visible” did the veil come off and she take her rightful place in the Cathedral where she is today. There is also a picture of this linked to the article as well.
Departing Pisa we made our way through the Tuscany hillside country to stay at a farmhouse that rents rooms to visitors. Our host, Julcy, speaks English and we talk about the remarkable spiritual experiences we have had on the trip. Julcy is surprised by my daughter Teresa’s faith and her friend Rebecca and Samantha wanting to see Catholic places. She learns I have 10 children and says she has only one 10-year old daughter. “She made her first Communion last year and now she says that doesn’t want to go to Church anymore, we don’t make her,” Julcy admits.
Julcy says that is the way it is in Italy today, lots of wonderful, beautiful Churches, but they are more like museums. The people don’t go to Mass, and worse yet, they are not practicing their faith or handing it down to their children. “It is true when you get rich, you don’t think you need God. In Italy we say God is for the poor people,” Julcy tells me.
We are leaving tomorrow for Rome, where we will be staying right outside the Vatican Walls. We have four days to see and do as much as we can. None of us believe that God is for just poor people, in fact we pilgrims believe we would be poor without Him.
Click here for pictures of this amazing day.