I saw the Shroud of Turin in 1998 when I tagged along with an Associated Press reporter to cover, as a freelancer, Pope John Paul II’s visit in the run-up to the Jubilee Year marking the 2,000th anniversary of Christ’s birth.
To be honest, I didn’t have much time for quiet contemplation of what many hold to be the burial cloth of Christ. I was more focused on the crush of pilgrims and, of course, the pope.
A couple of things stood out to me about the pope’s visit. First, he seemed to make a point when he made an initial stop in front of the tabernacle, where, he noted, Christ was truly and physically present. Second, after spending a few minutes in silent observation of the linen shroud, he said it not only was an “extraordinary witness of the suffering of Christ” but also “an icon of the suffering of the innocent of all time.”
He left the question of its authenticity in scientists’ hands, but noted that it is an image that “for now, no one can explain.”
More than a decade later, that still holds true as the shroud’s custodians prepare to display it again publicly for the first time since 2000, and for the first time since it has undergone significant cleaning and restoration. See our story this week by Tom Hoopes on the latest on the research into the shroud (Pages 14-15).
The question of the shroud’s authenticity may be foremost for scientists working on it, but for Christians it is really secondary. It is worth noting that the “miracles” associated with the shroud are all of the spiritual order — it has been a means to produce conversion of heart in those who have contemplated it and, through it, Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
“Whenever there is an opportunity to contemplate it, one remains deeply moved. This has happened to me, too,” Pope John Paul said after his 1998 visit.
One person who also had that experience — and found her life profoundly altered because of it — is Rebecca Jackson, who, with her husband, a physicist and leading shroud researcher, runs the Turin Shroud Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The pair is interviewed extensively in our shroud story this week, but what is missing is her own conversion story as told to our reporter.
She grew up an Orthodox Jew in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in the 1950s. But she said the presence of the local Catholic hospital and Bishop Fulton Sheen’s television show made her a Christian by the time she was 16. She studied Germanic languages and literature at Brooklyn College and after school joined the Army. In 1987, she became a Protestant.
In 1990, she saw John Jackson on a television show about the shroud. She called him, and through studying the shroud became a Catholic in 1991 and then married Jackson in 1992. Now she sees educating others about the shroud as a way to bring them to Christ.
Shroud thoughts? Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org.