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The Shroud and Nietzsche

The Pope also went to Turin as Successor of Peter to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the faith. Carrying in his heart the whole Church, indeed the whole of humanity, as he chose to say explicitly after praying before the Holy Shroud.

Before this mysterious, sacred object, which may be the most famous image of the Face and Body of Christ, Benedict XVI paused at length, enveloped in that almost unreal silence – in spite of the impressive and constant daily flow of thousands of people – that strikes every visitor, a pilgrim or simply curious person.

In his meditation the Pope recalled the Gospel narratives and a reflection from the ancient Christian tradition, because the silence that emanates from the winding-sheet – even though hundreds of groups of astonished school children brought there by their teachers are filing through the Cathedral of Turin in these weeks – is the same as the silence that shrouded the earth after the Lord's burial.

“A profound silence because the King sleeps”, God has died in the flesh and has descended to “rouse the realm of the dead”.

These words of a homily from the early centuries sufficed to inspire the words of Benedict XVI, rendered even more sensitive to the message of the Shroud – as he chose to confide – by the passing years.

The Pope compared these words with Nietzsche's, repeated as often as they are distorted: “God is dead! And we killed him!”. The thinker's cry is raised, as if by a modern Way of the Cross, anticipating in his desperate lucidity the horrors of the 20th century, which instead many still obstinately prefer to ignore, deny or justify.

This is the true mystery of the enigmatic sign the burial cloth contains, of which Turin is proud: the unheard-of newness of the One who passed through the darkness of death and descended into hell – “where total abandonment reigns”, to make ring out there the voice of God who overcame evil and death once and for all. A situation that even the smallest and simplest can understand: just as the fear of the dark that children feel is dispelled by the presence of someone who loves them, Benedict XVI – who has the human and spiritual gift of making himself understood by all – explained.

And his power comes from the mystery of the Shroud that speaks with his blood, because – the Pope said, together with the entire biblical tradition – blood is life: the image on the winding-sheet is in fact, “that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life”. And Benedict XVI spoke of this life once again in his meetings with the people of Turin: proclaiming the One who showed how necessary it is to love and to offer “the certainty that we are not alone”. God, in fact, “is close to everyone with his love”, a love that is certainly not confined to the past, that knows it must face the trials and tribulations of every day.

It is now up to each one – women and men, young and old – to imitate Christ by “living and not just managing to get by”, to borrow a saying of Pier Giorgio Frassati, dear not only to the people of Turin, of which the Pope wished to remind them, but to everyone.

This is the message that emanates from the silent sign of the Holy Shroud, from that dramatic but serene image which represents the death of God, denounced by Nietzsche. Of that God who went down to hell to set every human creature free from death's snare.

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Sept. 19, 2019

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