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The Shroud and secularization

· An exhibition on the Face and Body of Christ ·

A few days ago the exposition of the Holy Shroud, backed this time by an exhibition on the Face and Body of Christ, was inaugurated on 31 March at the Reggia di Venaria by Imago Veritatis . The complementary events stress two fundamental dimensions of the Christian religion: the historical reality of Jesus' existence and his being God incarnate, hence also his image.

Rethinking these two realities today is particularly meaningful: they constitute de facto a response to what one may consider the most damaging and pervasive cultural effects of secularization, that is, the attempt to delete Jesus' existence from history – the extraordinary event of a God who makes himself man – and, consequently, the privileged status of human nature in comparison with the other natural realities.

It seems incredible, but many young people do not even know that Jesus existed historically: in various countries, including Italy, today the history of Christianity no longer forms part of the school curriculum, and this leads to an ignorance that is also the result of tendencies geared to make Christianity a religion like the others, with no specificity, hence leading to considering Christ as a mythical being, almost as if he were a Greek, Roman or Oriental divinity.

In international milieus – even in organizations such as the United Nations – propaganda for a mistaken concept of multiculturalism has been spreading for decades: this is proposed as a panacea for every conflict, providing that all religions be considered absolutely equal, in other words that each waives all claim to truth.

Remembering that Christianity is born from the existence in history of a man, Jesus, who said he was the Son of God, is an obstacle to this seemingly irenic fabrication because it highlights the difference of Christianity in comparison with other religions. A God who becomes incarnate to save human beings, in fact is an absolute unicum, [absolutely unique], difficult to standardize.

The fact that it is possible to dispute the authenticity of the Turin Shroud – independently of the outcome of the discussion – emphasizes, in a practical and visible manner, the fact that Jesus really existed, also because of the possibility that this winding-sheet once truly enwrapped his tortured body, killed and raised on the third day.

In this way too, the specificity of the Christian tradition is highlighted unequivocally, making it difficult to standardize Christianity with the other religions.

However, this is only the first effect of the exposition of the Shroud and of its related exhibition: from the Incarnation also obviously derives a confirmation of the special status of human nature, not only created in the image of God but, precisely, confirmed by God's actual choice to become man.

And this happens in a culture that is now seeking to convince itself and others that the human being is an animal like all others, except that it is more evolved.

This is not an exclusively theoretical debate: from the definition of human nature derives the possibility or impossibility of altering human beings and therefore, for example, the legitimacy of abortion and of embryonic selection or euthanasia.

If the human being is an animal like any other, why treat it differently when it no longer possesses (or does not yet possess) reason and will?

The deep root of the diversity of positions on current bioethical problems – that are always represented under the superficial guise of options of freedom – immediately comes to light.

The search for how to represent the Face and Body of Jesus in the history of Western art – hence of culture – has been transformed into a meditation on human nature. The exhibition now open at the Reggia di Venaria, in fact, is intended to accompany the visitor to retrace the complex relationship between a human body and a divine image that passes through history, a relationship with the origins of the concept of an individual and a human person.

The history of the birth of the individual is also interwoven with the history of the theological and sacramental significance of the Body of Christ – with the history of the sacrifice on the altar, for which the Body becomes a monstrance. Meditating before the Shroud and visiting the exhibition at the Reggia di Venaria ensures that it becomes more difficult to forget all this.

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