“He could not tear himself away from the sight of the Holy Face”

By Paul Badde

Pope Benedict XVI contemplates the Veil of the Holy Face in Manoppello. (Photo Paul Badde/EWTN)

On December 31st, an honorary German citizen of Manoppello died with these Italian words on his lips, “Signore, ti amo” (“Lord, I love you”): Pope Benedict XVI.

His visit by helicopter [to Manoppello, Italy, site of the Shrine of the Holy Face] will be here forever remembered. Countless cameras captured how he could not tear himself away from the sight of the Holy Face, in which the half-blind seer had just discovered “the Face of God,” and which he never tired of praising during his pontificate. Since then, he no longer waited for the end after his death, but for “an encounter,” a term which became, more or less, the center of his theology.

Benedict was the first Pope after more than four hundred years to bend the knee before this “true image” [“Veronica”] of Christ. And even more, by his visit, Pope Benedict catapulted the Holy Image, out of its hiddenness in the silence of the isolation of Abruzzo, and into the consciousness of the whole earth (“omnis terra”)…but also into a [technologically] changed world where new possibilities of digital comparisons [of images of the Holy Face] could, as never before, identify it in a definitive and concise way as the “Crown Relic of the Resurrection.” This return of the Holy Face to Christianity will forever be the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

The Holy Face, Light that Illuminates the World

Homily at Mass at the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello

By Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti, Italy, on Sunday, January 15, 2023, in Manoppello, Italy

It was Pope Innocent III in the year 1208 who desired that the veil of the Holy Face should be carried in procession from St. Peter’s Basilica to the nearby church of Santo Spirito in Sassia. It was the second Sunday after Epiphany, called “Omnis Terra Sunday” from the words of the Entrance Psalm, Omnis terra adoret te, Deus, et psallat tibi! – Let the whole earth adore You, O God, and sing You hymns (Ps 65:4). At the end of that procession the Bishop of Rome wished to bless with the precious relic the sick of the Pilgrims’ Hospital, which he himself had rebuilt and upgraded. With that gesture the Pope intended to highlight the healing grace flowing from the Face of the Savior contemplated with faith and the fruitfulness of the prayer of adoration and intercession before that Face, which we contemplate in the veil of byssus venerated here in Manoppello.

Another Pope, Benedict XVI, who went to meet the Lord last December 31, wished to visit this place on September 1, 2006 to venerate the Holy Face, receiving such a profound impression that he wrote the beautiful prayer we know, and also he wanted permanently beside him the copy of that beloved Face. Reliable sources assure us that it is to that image that the dying Pope directed his last gaze, pronouncing the words, the true synthesis of his entire life given to Christ, to the Church and to the world: “Lord, I love you!”

The word of God proclaimed this Sunday helps us to understand Pope Benedict’s love for the Holy Face and the reasons that make pilgrimage to this place a particular source of grace and peace: here from the Face of the risen Jesus, marked by pain, but serene and radiant, the light of the Redeemer of man shines for us; here everyone can welcome that light into his heart for his own life; from here we start with the intense desire to witness to everyone the light of that Face, to lead many to the encounter with the Savior, who profoundly changes our lives and makes us pilgrims in love towards the heavenly homeland, where the Holy Father Benedict has now entered and intercedes for us. The text taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (49:3,5-6) reports the promise made by the Lord to manifest His glory through His servant, Israel, whom He chose and shaped from his mother’s womb to restore the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the survivors of Israel and whom He made a “light to the nations” to bring salvation from on high to the ends of the earth. In a homily given on September 24, 2011, to young people, gathered for a prayer vigil at the fairgrounds at Freiburg im Breisgau, Pope Benedict affirmed:

“Christ, who says of himself: ‘I am the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12), makes our lives shine, so that what is said in his Gospel may be true: ‘You are the light of the world’ (Mt 5:14). It is not our human efforts or the technical progress of our time that bring light to this world. The suffering of the innocent and, finally, the death of every man constitute an impenetrable darkness that can be illuminated for a moment by new experiences, as by lightning in the night. In the end, however, a distressing darkness remains… However, we see a light: a small, tiny flame that is stronger than darkness, seemingly so powerful and unbeatable. Christ, who rose from the dead, shines in this world, and he does so most clearly precisely where according to human judgment everything seems gloomy and hopeless. He has conquered death – He lives – and faith in Him penetrates like a small light all that is dark and threatening. Those who believe in Jesus certainly do not always see only the sun in life…, but there is always a bright light that shows them a way, the way that leads to life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The eyes of those who believe in Christ see even in the darkest night a light and already see the glow of a new day.”


Let us ask, then, the Lord, who looks at us from His Holy Face, to fill us with His light and to be witnesses to His light in every situation of our lives, for the benefit of every creature He will give us to meet.

We do so with words taken from the beautiful prayer that Pope Benedict sent us a year after his visit here in Manoppello: “O Lord Jesus, like the first apostles… We too, your disciples of this difficult time, want to follow you and be your friends, attracted by the radiance of your desired and hidden face. Show us, we beg you, your ever new face, a mysterious mirror of God’s infinite mercy. Let us contemplate him in the eyes of our mind and heart: the face of the Son, the radiance of the Father’s glory and the imprint of his substance (Cf. Heb 1:3), the human face of God who entered history to reveal the horizons of eternity, light that illuminates the darkness of doubt and sadness, life that has defeated forever the power of evil and death…

“Make us pilgrims of God in this world, thirsting for the infinite and ready for the meeting of the last day… Mary, Mother of the Holy Face, help us to have ‘clean hands and a pure heart,’ hands enlightened by the truth of love and hearts enraptured by divine beauty, so that, transformed by the encounter with Christ, we may give ourselves to the poor and suffering, in whose faces shines the mysterious presence of your Son Jesus, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen!”

+ Bruno Forte
Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto
(Translated by Raymond Frost)

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