I have been in contact with one of the Sisters at the Shrine via e-mail in the hopes of arranging a tour of the basilica and for us to celebrate the Votive Mass of the Holy Face before the image that speaks so eloquently without a word. Sister said to celebrate the Mass today, we would have to arrive at the shrine not later than 9:00 a.m. At first this was our plan but, due to unforeseen circumstances discovered on Thursday, we had to arrange a later departure and so would not be able to celebrate Mass at the shrine.
Because the web site indicated that the car rental services opened at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings, we arrived at the Termini Station about 7:35 a.m. When we walked into the area with counters for several agencies, we were surprised to see that only one agent was to be found. Shortly afterwards we noticed that the posted hours of operation for each of the companies listed 8:00 a.m. as the opening time (situations are par for the course in Italy).
We were able to rent a car without difficulty; because we did not have a reservation, there was some question about this possibility (there's a long story behind that, too, but this will likely be a lengthy post as it is). The agent was remarkably friendly and even joked with us that because it was a Saturday the GPS could function in Japanese. At first I wondered how a GPS could be programmed in that manner and then, "Well, this is Italy;" then I realized she was joking. (My acclimation to the Italian system may be happening against my will when I begin to simply accept such bizarre situations as normal.)
At any rate, we found our car and, since all seemed to be in order, began our journey across the Italian peninsula. We would have to stop fairly soon to refill the car since it only had a quarter of a tank of gas to begin with. I had not foreseen this delay and knew that there would now be now way we would arrive at Manoppello at 10:00 a.m., as I had most recently related to the Sister to help facilitate our tour before she had to see to a wedding (which she seemed to indicate would take place in the afternoon).
So it was with both happiness and some sadness that I set off this morning with my two fellow pilgrims; my heart was joyful because I was finally going back to Manoppello and sad because of the various setbacks. In the end, though, the day proved to be everything I had hoped and much more than I could have asked.
As we left the equivalent of a U.S. Interstate to make the final distance to Manoppello, we encountered another delay as we paid a toll. I offered my credit card for payment and the agent, so I thought, indicted we could pull over and go to the side of a shed to pay with a credit card. Again, I thought, "That seems bizarre, but this is Italy," when I realized he must be saying something else (I couldn't actually hear him and only saw his gesturing).
It turns out he was point to a faint smoke coming from under the hood of our car. We paid the toll and immediately pulled over. "Great," thought I; "another delay, we're already behind schedule, and the basilica closes for lunch at 12:30 p.m." (I don't like my plans being frustrated and sometimes I think God alters them just to prove a point; sometimes I'm also a slow learner.)
It turns out, so far as we can guess, whoever last put oil in the engine put in far too much. After some miles the heat of the engine must have caused the cap to burst off, thus spewing oil all over the engine and the underside of the hood, which resulted in the smoke we saw and the scent we now smelled. The cap, thanks be to God, was somehow caught on top of the engine. We checked the oil level (which seemed okay), replaced the cap, and continued another ten kilometers to the shrine.
It was now just after 10:30 a.m. and I hoped things would soon improve. We entered the basilica and went up to the veil by way of the stairs behind the altar. As I climbed the stairs I noticed a woman and man seated in front of the image. The man, I thought, looked very familiar and very much resembled Paul Badde, author of The Face of God and The True Icon (both of which you should read). It couldn't be him, I thought, because he said he was going to be in the Holy Land this weekend. As I looked again, I realized that either my dates were confused or his plans changed; it was Paul Badde and his lovely wife. At the sight of Paul, my day took a tremendous swing upward; there are few people in the world who know more about the Veil of Manoppello or who are more devoted to it.
We spent the next thirty minutes (the wedding began at 11:00) before the Face of Jesus with Paul as our guide to the beautiful, simple, and majestic mystery before us.
Consider this picture:
At the same time, however, it also is opaque (depending on the light) and displays the image of the face of the Risen Jesus:
In this image, taken from the pews, you can see the face of Jesus and the window behind him.
Between that window and the veil, however, if you stand at an angle to the veil, you see this:
We may not know what awaits after death, but we know who awaits us; he has left his face for us on this veil. In the Shroud of Turin, we have the image - both face and body - of Jesus in death; in the Veil of Manoppello, we have the image of Jesus Risen from the dead. He is alive, and his eyes are filled with love.
Standing before the image, my eyes are filled with tears and my heart is filled with peace, and longing to look at last upon the face, into the eyes, of the One who has left his image in this rare piece of silk (only one person today knows how to make byssus silk and in the ancient world it was only made in two cities).
When the wedding began, Paul and his wife took their leave and we visited the gift shop to pick up a few items, most notably a large quantity of holy cards to distribute throughout the U.S.A. to help spread devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.
While two of us shopped the other priest - who, because he has spent the last five years in Italy, seldom takes no for an answer - inquired at the sacristy if we might celebrate Mass sometime in the afternoon (even though Sister said 9:00 a.m. was the only time we could celebrate Mass). He was able to reserve for us the 4:00 p.m. slot, much to my great surprise and delight.
We decided then to take a long lunch in Manoppello and return to the basilica at 3:00 p.m. when it reopened. When he inquired of the locals for a recommendation for lunch, they suggested the restaurant next the basilica. When we entered this restaurant we immediately noticed something strange: there was no food. Apparently you have to make reservations to eat there and no group had made a reservations.
A few other locals suggested we make our back down the mountain a bit and follow the road to the left where we would a restaurant. As we began our walk to lunch, a car pulled up beside us; it was Paul and his wife, whom we thought had already left Manoppello. "Where are going," he asked. When we told him we going for lunch, he told us to get in because he and his wife were also going for lunch. We spent the next tour hours together over a very enjoyable - and delicious - meal.
Afterwards Paul and his wife brought us back to the basilica where we made a Holy Hour before celebrating the Votive Mass of the Holy Face, which was more than I could have asked (I often take no for no, even in Italy). We spent a few more minutes with Paul after the Mass before an uneventful return to Rome.
Please, start saving for a pilgrimage to Manoppello; you must come and see the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. You, too, must come and look upon the eyes of Love!