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HOLY COUNTENANCE
from issue no. 04 - 2009

The visit of Benedict XVI to the Holy Countenance of Manoppello



by Carmine Cucinelli


Benedict XVI visiting the Sanctuary of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello (Pescara), on 1 September 2006 <BR>[© Santuario di Manoppello]

Benedict XVI visiting the Sanctuary of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello (Pescara), on 1 September 2006
[© Santuario di Manoppello]

The Capuchins and the Holy Countenance
The Capuchin monastery was founded between 1618 and 1620, precisely in the years when Donat’Antonio De Fabritiis set the Sacred Veil between two panes of glass. The church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel and the Holy Countenance, which was displayed for the veneration of the faithful on 6 April 1646. After that date, for about forty years, it was not the object of public veneration, but kept almost privately in a niche on the right side of the high altar. It was not till 1686 that a small chapel was built on the left side of the church, with an altar to which the sacred relic was moved and the liturgical celebration of 6 August was introduced, the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
It was a tragic happening that gave impetus to the cult of the Holy Countenance. In 1700 a series of earthquakes began that incessantly shocked Umbria, Abruzzo and Sannio. So, starting in 1703, Father Bonifacio da Ascoli several times displayed the Holy Countenance for public veneration, and the idea arose of a procession round the walls with the Sacred Veil (a procession that first took place on the second Sunday in May 1712).
The procession posed a safety problem and to better protect the Sacred Veil, Father Bonifacio da Ascoli decided in 1703 to change the glass, as also, in 1714, did Father Antonio da Poschiavo, adding a silver frame. On both occasions, when separated from the glass, the image of Christ vanished, shining forth again only when everything was returned to its previous state.
In 1750, to avoid coinciding with the feast of St Justin, Patron Saint of Chieti, the procession was postponed to the third Sunday in May, which has remained unchanged up to today. The 19th century was marked by laws suppressing religious orders, and the friars twice had to leave the monastery. The first time on 6 September 1811. On that day the Holy Countenance was transported to the Poor Clares’ convent which was situated within the walls. The Capuchin monastery was left empty and the sanctuary closed until 16 May 1816, when the Capuchins returned. The following Sunday, 19 May, after the customary festival, the Holy Veil was triumphantly taken back to its sanctuary. But on 27 December 1866 a new law expelled the monks from the monastery and the Holy Countenance remained in the closed sanctuary. The religious returned on 27 October 1869 and are still there. Finally in 1871 the new chapel was completed. In 1946 the community of Manoppello donated the new case that now houses the veil of the Holy Countenance.

Benedict XVI in Manoppello
In 2006 we celebrated the five hundredth anniversary of the arrival in Manoppello, according to tradition, of the Sacred Veil with the image of Christ, a relic that, especially in recent years, has gained an extraordinary reputation in Italy and throughout the world, thanks to the research that confirmed its authenticity.
And here on 1 September 2006 an event occurred that will certainly change the history of this important relic of Christianity: the visit of Benedict XVI to the shrine of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello. The Pope among us, the Pope with us – as Archbishop Bruno Forte wrote. “This is how we met him, father, friend, brother, who did not spare himself in greeting and in blessing all. The theologian Pope who opened his believer’s heart to us, communicating to us frankly and simply his experience during the long minutes of intense prayer in front of the Countenance... The Pope coming from the great German theological and philosophical culture did not hesitate to present himself as lover of the Lord, who has had and continuously has experience of Him”.
After a long wait of many centuries, the first Pope came to Manoppello, very shortly after his election to the throne of Peter. It was Father Pfeiffer who acutely remarked: “I am convinced that many of his predecessors have already seen this same image, when the Holy Countenance was still called the “Veronica”, linking it to the legendary tradition and popular devotion of a pious woman of that name who was said to have wiped Christ’s face during his journey to Calvary. It is of enormous and beneficial significance that the current Pope has seen and contemplated at length with his own eyes this image of Christ that was revered throughout the centuries as the most important relic of Christianity... In addition to the joy of meeting the people of Manoppello and the whole of the Abruzzo region, Benedict XVI’s long pause before the image-relic was the most eloquent gesture of his visit. The Pope was visibly touched and remained in a great silence before the image of Christ, as if in a direct encounter with Jesus, made possible through the Holy Countenance”.

Benedict XVI with Father Carmine Cucinelli in front of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello [© Santuario di Manoppello]

Benedict XVI with Father Carmine Cucinelli in front of the Holy Countenance of Manoppello [© Santuario di Manoppello]

Minor Basilica and indulgences
On 22 September 2006, a few days after his pilgrimage to the Holy Countenance, Benedict XVI elevated the sanctuary into a minor Basilica. What does the title mean?
In general a church that enjoys a certain celebrity in a diocese is elevated into Basilica, for example because it was built and consecrated to God on account of some particular historico-religious event, or because it housed the body or a renowned relic of a saint, or because some sacred image is especially venerated there. In our case, because the relic of the veil on which is imprinted the Holy Countenance of Jesus is kept here.
By elevating the church of the Holy Countenance into Basilica, the Holy Father has made it closer to him, as if his visit continued to this day. It helps the pilgrims and devout, who can feel more united with the Pope and heed his teachings with faith.
The faithful who devoutly visit the Basilica and participate in any sacred rite there, or at least recite the Our Father and the Creed, can on the usual conditions (Confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intention of the Supreme Pontiff) enjoy a plenary indulgence : a) on the anniversary day of the dedication of the Basilica, b) on the day of the liturgical celebration of the titular holder (third Sunday in May and 6 August), c) on the feast of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29), d) on the anniversary day of the granting of the title of Basilica (22 September), e) once a year on a day to be decided by the local bishop, f) once a year on a day chosen by each believer.


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