PHILADELPHIA — Not everyone will be able to travel to Italy this year when the Shroud of Turin is on public view for the first time in 10 years.
But Philadelphia might be a good alternative.
A Vatican replica of the Shroud of Turin is on display in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philly until June 29, and, according to officials of the Ukrainian Archdiocese, the effect the replica has been having on people is quite profound.
“People are moved by the awesomeness of seeing the shroud and contemplating what Jesus did for them,” said Msgr. Myron Grabowsky, who works in the chancery of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
Another advantage is that anyone who comes to the cathedral can spend as much time as he wants in front of the photographic replica. On the other hand, anyone who goes to Turin this year will have a time limit — some say as little as three seconds.
After all, Turin expects about 2 million pilgrims for the rare display, to take place April 10 to May 23. Pope Benedict XVI will be one of those pilgrims, visiting on May 2.
The Philadelphia replica was a gift from Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, based in Kiev, Ukraine. It is a photographic replica, overlaid on linen, but, said Father Daniel Troyan, director of evangelization for the archeparchy, “It gives you the same effect.”
Ken Hutchins, who attends Divine Liturgy regularly at the cathedral, remembers thinking when he heard that the replica was coming, “A photograph? Will that have the same impact as if someone went to go see the actual Shroud of Turin?”
But Hutchins reports that he had a “very moving experience” in front of the replica and noticed that others did too.
“I could see that they treated this as if it were the actual burial cloth of Jesus,” said the 55-year-old convert from Protestantism. “Several feet before they got to the front of the line, people would go down on their knees to venerate it as if it were the Good Friday service. They would venerate all the wounds. The fact that it’s a copy became the least important fact.”
There are numerous photographic replicas of the shroud around the country, but this one is unusual for its size, said Russ Breault of the Shroud of Turin Education Project in Peachtree City, Ga. What’s not unusual is the reaction people have when they see such a replica, he said.
“It’s a very powerful reaction,” Breault said. “It is a phenomenal thing when you can be up close and personal.”
Breault will present a multimedia lecture on the Shroud of Turin at the cathedral on April 9 and 10.
Means of Evangelization
Cardinal Husar received two shroud replicas from the Vatican and wanted to share one with an overseas Ukrainian Church, said Father Troyan. Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia put in a request.
“The Vatican is trying to get veneration of the shroud established throughout the world,” said Father Troyan. “It’s a means of evangelization for whoever has it.”
It seems to be working. Said Father Troyan, “The people who come — rather than running in and running out — are moved to prayer and reconciliation. People who haven’t been to confession in 25 years are asking for the sacrament of reconciliation.”
“People are moved by the awesomeness of seeing the shroud and realizing what Jesus did for them,” said Msgr. Grabowsky.
Both priests reported that hopeful parents lay sick children on the replica, which is situated on a table in front of the cathedral’s icon screen. And one elderly man touched to it a prayer card a priest in Ukraine had given him during the communist persecution, when the Church was forced underground.
The cathedral began displaying the replica of the Shroud on Feb. 21, the first Sunday of Lent. That day in the Eastern Church is always “the Sunday of Orthodoxy,” commemorating the restoration of the use of icons after the period of iconoclasm.
For visitors like Hutchins, the 14’ by 3’ replica itself is a kind of icon. Like an icon, it became a “vehicle to pray to God,” he said.
Father Troyan agreed that people who come to the cathedral see the replica as a kind of icon. “There is no physical description of Jesus in the Bible,” he said. “All of the coins, mosaics, icons since the early centuries, if overlaid with the face on the shroud, have all of the same markings: the position of the eyes, the hair, the beard, the nose and the cheeks.”
Today, about 130 seminarians from the Latin Catholic St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in nearby Overbrook will share in the experience of venerating the shroud. The seminary conducts a biannual walking pilgrimage to Philly-area shrines such as those to St. John Neumann or St. Rita of Cascia. This year, said Father Pat Welsh, dean of men and director of liturgy, the seminary wanted to introduce the students to the Byzantine liturgy and chose to walk the seven and a half miles to the Ukrainian cathedral and attend Divine Liturgy.
“By a happy coincidence,” said Father Welsh, “they are exhibiting the shroud at this time.”