Wednesday, April 21, 2010
We knew it wasn’t easy to get from Bismarck, North Dakota to Turin, Italy. Throw in the worst interruption to jet air service ever and the complicated became complex. But prayers were answered when 30 hours after we left, our tiny group of four were less than 8 feet away from the “image not made by human hands.” I believe we might have been the only English-speaking people amongst the several hundred people, that formed that last groups this evening, that solemnly walked up inside the St. John the Baptist’s Cathedral in Turin, Italy and listened silently to a volunteer pray in Italian. We intend to go back again tomorrow and spend another three minutes in front of what many believe to be the bloodstained, linen, burial cloth of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t easy to get here, but now that we are here, none of us — including my 14-year old daughter Teresa, or her two friends, Samantha or Rebecca — want to leave this holy place.
Earlier in the day, our jumbo jet was packed with people desperate for a means to fly into Europe who didn’t even think we were going to actually make it. After a nearly 10-hour, all-night flight from Atlanta, our pilot informed us we needed to go into a holding pattern to wait for some fog to lift at the Rome Airport. The four of us said a prayer that the fog would lift and 45 minutes later, the pilot came back on the loudspeaker to announce we were going to land now. Then, with just seconds before touchdown, the engines screamed back to life, the nose lifted straight up and we felt the plane shudder as the landing gear lifted back into the belly of the plane. The fog had not lifted. And we nearly crashed.
Circling again for another 25 minutes the pilot made another approach. We prayed again because out our windows, all we saw was fog. This time, in the final seconds, we pierced the low hanging cloud veil and landed. Applause broke out amongst the passengers. I looked at my watch, relieved we had landed, but realized we had missed our train to Turin and knew getting a reservation going north from Rome would be difficult because of all the volcanic airport closures.
We rushed out of the terminal and found our first train connection from the Rome airport into downtown Rome. It was a zoo at the Rome train terminal. The line to exchange our train tickets had at least 500 people in it. It didn’t seem possible that we could wait, let alone exchange our tickets for different ones to Turin. Boldly I walked to the front of the line and asked the man standing there if I could cut in front of him. Fortunately he spoke English and I explained to him that I had three young girls traveling with me and I needed to find a replacement train to Turin to see the Shroud. He said, “Go ahead, I am sure you need a ticket more than I do.”
The Italian Rail agent explained that he could not refund my earlier purchase and that there were only four tickets left for a 2 p.m. departure for Turin, 5 hours later than originally planned. I took the tickets, knowing that our chances of seeing the Shroud our first evening was next to impossible. We prayed a prayer of thanksgiving that we at least had tickets!
With 4 hours to spend in Rome now unexpectedly I got out my guidebook that I planned to use later on our trip when we returned. I found that just two blocks away was the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs. With all our luggage in tow, we hiked over to see it.
What a magnificent place! Built beginning in 1561, it was personal monument to Pope Pius IV and was dedicated to the Catholic martyrs, known and unknown. What was really fascinating was that in the 1700’s, Pope Clement XI commissioned the astronomer and mathematician Francesco Bianchini to build a meridian line, which acts as a sundial, within the Basilica. Pope Clement wanted to check the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar and to predict Easter. A nice Italian lady, who spoke no English, tried her best to show me, how it all worked. And I finally understood when I found an English translation guidebook!
When we finally got on board the train again it was packed. Four-and-a-half hours later we disembarked and walked to our Bed and Breakfast, which was only 5 blocks from the train station (and where I am writing this from my laptop now). The owner Francesca encouraged us to walk the 20 minutes to see the Shroud (I did have tickets for the last view time that evening). We followed her advice and quickly walked and marveled at the architecture across the ancient cobblestone-lined sidewalks that is old Turin.
Coming up to St. John the Baptist’s Cathedral the early evening sun lit up the old dome perfectly and we found out where to line up to prepare for our viewing. I had expected to wait for hours. In just over 20 minutes we were ushered into the Sanctuary and beheld the Shroud.
There were signs up not to take flash photos, and I was careful to take non-flash pictures and videos. I wanted to record this moment for all those millions who won’t be here to see and feel what I felt. I had heard the image was so faint it was hard to make it out and you needed time to discern it. I was prepared for that and felt quite the opposite. The Man in the Shroud seemed to be very real and very profound and very Holy. I felt a tear in my eye as I prayed a prayer of both thanksgiving for both being there and for love that Christ outpoured for his creatures during his time on the cross.
I didn’t want it to end. And neither did my three fellow pilgrims. And we knew it wasn’t going to end since we would be back the next day to again deeply contemplate this mystery. It is a dual mystery on many levels. One is the Shroud itself and its ability to draw nearly two million people over nearly seven weeks. Another is looking at what they see as the Holy Face of God accepting the will of God for the creatures of God to be with Him for an eternity.
My fellow pilgrims couldn’t stop talking about what has happened these 30 hours. Tomorrow will be another day in Turin. We will be back to see the Shroud again. We will also see other sites here, go to Mass, spend time in Adoration and be with fellow pilgrims from around the world who come here to renew and strengthen their faith. It has been a remarkable first 30 hours, thanks for your prayers, they worked. We will continue to pray for you.
A picture gallery of this day’s events can be found at this link.