A pleasant surprise

No doubt 2010 has been one of the toughest years for the Church, and the year is only about half over. Many of my friends and family have shared how the continual battering from the media concerning the priest abuse issue has been a source of pain and frustration. Some of us even have felt helpless as we have watched relatives leave the Church or use the latest media reports as an excuse to continue their version of cafeteria Catholicism. 

All of this, combined with the continual cultural assault on time-tested Church teachings, is a lot for Catholics to handle. We know, as Jesus reminds us in Scripture, that in this world we have trouble. But the trouble department seems to be in overdrive lately.  

That’s why I was so moved by what I witnessed during my recent pilgrimage to Italy. Maybe it is the cynical journalist in me, but with all the negativity out there, I wasn’t expecting to see so much devotion.  

Our main focus of this journey, with 150 pilgrims from across the United States, was to have a chance to view the Shroud of Turin. The shroud is a cloth that contains a mysterious image of a crucified man. The Church refers to the shroud as icon, and many, including myself, believe it is the actual burial cloth of Jesus. 

According to the Vatican press office, it’s estimated that close to 2 million people came to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin during the special exhibition, which ended May 24. Pope Benedict XVI visited the cathedral on May 2 and reminded the faithful that the image remains a mystery yet offers us a real opportunity to once again reflect on our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. 

It still hasn’t sunk in that I actually viewed the Shroud of Turin in person. I am sure that I will have more to say about it after I am able to process it all. But I was taken back by something else, something I wasn’t expecting to see, and that was the level of love for the Church as seen in the actions of those flocking to Turin and other shrines around Italy. 

Given all of the publicity the shroud has received over the years, one would not be surprised that a large number would show up out of simple curiosity. But it was much more than that. I saw a true reverence from those who waited for several hours in lines that stretched for blocks around the church. Most were from parish groups, pilgrimages like ours. They sang hymns, clung to their rosaries and, when they finally did see the shroud, there were tears, along with a visible respect for the image on the cloth. 

I saw a similar reverence and appreciation expressed by pilgrims in the new crypt of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. There were thousands standing in line to pass by his tomb and ask for the intercession of one of our most beloved modern-day saints. 

They just kept coming — and keep coming — to Turin, to San Giovanni Rotondo, to Rome and to other holy sites around the world. It took my breath away, and as someone on the front lines who is charged with defending and explaining the Catholic faith, it gave me some much needed encouragement to continue my work. 

Despite all the bad news, we know that our faith is not built on men or based on how the secular world views us. Even when some of our priests sin or make mistakes, we know that the Church is built on Jesus Christ. Pilgrims continue to come and to worship because they continue to seek him. I am grateful for the witness of these faith-filled Catholics from around the globe who reminded me that the Church is the Church built on Jesus Christ and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.