VATICAN CITY - It took place in silence and lasted only a few
minutes, but Pope Francis' time of prayer and contemplation
before the Shroud of Turin was marked with gestures of
reverence and tenderness.
Revered by many as the burial cloth of Jesus, the shroud was
the second stop on the pope's packed itinerary for his
two-day visit to the northern Italian town of Turin.
The pope did not give a speech June 21 in the Cathedral of
St. John the Baptist, where the shroud is housed, but he
described it later as an icon of Christ's great love for
"At the end of our celebration, our thoughts go to the Virgin
Mary, loving mother and attentive to all her children, whom
Jesus entrusted to her from the cross, while he offered
himself in the greatest act of love. The icon of this love is
the shroud," Pope Francis said before reciting the midday
"The shroud draws (us) to the face and martyred body of Jesus
and, at the same time, impels us toward the face of every
suffering and unjustly persecuted person. It impels us in the
same direction as Jesus' gift of love," he said, making
reference to the words of St. Paul.
After his first meeting in Turin, a gathering in a public
square with thousands of people from the world of work, Pope
Francis walked to the cathedral nearby. He entered the church
at 9:15 a.m. and walked directly toward the shroud, which had
been on public exhibit since April 19.
The pope stood before the shroud for about 20 seconds, then
crossed himself before settling into a wooden armchair, set
several feet from the shroud. He sat in dim lighting and in
silence, with his head bowed for several moments. He crossed
himself again before approaching the shroud, stopping only a
few feet away. He stood there, contemplating it for another
20 seconds or so, before walking right up to its case,
touching it gently and crossing himself again.
He then prayed before a side altar in the cathedral, the
location of the tomb of a native of Turin, Blessed Pier
Giorgio Frassati, who died at age 24 after a short life
dedicated to helping the poor.
The pope then celebrated an outdoor Mass in one of Turin's
central squares, Piazza Vittorio. Officials estimated the
crowd at 100,000 people.
During his homily, the pope reflected on three aspects of the
love of God. God's love is faithful, re-creates all things
anew, and is stable and sure, he said.
On the first aspect, the pope said God's love does not
disappoint and never fails and is incarnate in Jesus.
"For love, he became man; for love, he died and resurrected;
for love, he is always at our side, in beautiful moments and
in difficult ones. Jesus loves us always, until the end,
without limits and without measure. And he loves all of us to
the point that we each can say, 'He gave his life for me.'
For me," he said.
"The faithfulness of Jesus does not give up even in the face
of our own unfaithfulness," he added.
A person experiences the ability of God's love to re-create
when one realizes his or her own mistakes, sins and weakness
and opens up to the forgiveness and love of Jesus, the pope
"The spirit of the world is always searching for newness, but
only the faithfulness of Jesus is capable of true newness, of
making us new people, of re-creating us," he said.
The day's Gospel reading about Jesus calming the storm on the
Sea of Galilee demonstrates the third aspect: the stability
and sureness of God's love, said the pope.
When people feel they are unable to go on, he said, Jesus
offers them "the rock of his love, onto which each person can
grasp, certain they will not fall."
"How many times have we felt that we cannot go on," the pope
said. "But (Jesus) is always beside us, with an extended hand
and an open heart."
The pope then urged the faithful to reflect on whether they
are living on the "rock" of God's love. People, including
even Christians, run the risk of forgetting God's love and of
feeling "paralyzed by fears of the future and seeking
security in passing things or in models of closed societies
that tend to exclude more than to include," he said.
He prayed that the Holy Spirit would help make Christians
aware of the constant and faithful love of God, "to face life
with courage and to look at the future with hope."
"The peace that (God) gives us is for everyone," he said,
"even for the many brothers and sisters who are fleeing wars
and persecution in the search of peace and freedom."
The pope's two most recent predecessors also visited the
shroud: Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, calling it the "icon of
Holy Saturday," and Pope John Paul II in 1998. The shroud is
expected to be on public display until June 24.