I spent part of Tuesday evening talking to a friend who had spent the weekend on a pilgrimage to the exposition of the Holy Shroud in Turin. The idea for the visit had come from some of the boys at the school at which he teaches, and had coincided with the Pope's own visit to the relic.
Four things emerged for my friend from the visit.
First, and most important, was the fact of seeing the Shroud itself. He had clearly found this to be a deeply moving and thought provoking experience. Convinced of its authenticity he had reflected upon the fact that this really was the shroud of Christ. that it really had been the silent witness to the Resurrection, that it had been seen by St Peter and St John and by St Mary Magdalene. We agreed that the attempts to explain the phenomenon by elaborate theories of people inventing photography in the Middle Ages and then forgetting about it, or of creating a forgery are more far fetched than the awe-inspiring and indeed awful, fact that it really is what it purports to be. That is a very sobering thing for the believer - and doubtless why the non-believer seems so anxious to not believe or come up with theories that seek, however improbably, to explain the evidence of the Shroud away.
The second fact was the impact of the Papal presence. There was a real sense of being in the presence of a figure of sacral authority, and made him reflect on the traditional perception of being in the presence of sanctified rulership. He also noted the genuine warmth of people's welcome to the Holy Father, and that the Pope appeared well. He also contrasted the crowds welcoming the Pope on Sunday with the handful of people marking May Day as a socialist workers festival on Saturday - they were definitely left overs from the past, if you will pardon my pun.
The third fact was the state of the Church in Turin. Several of the churches were very much 'post-Vatican II' in their spirit - a middle aged priest strumming his guitar at a poorly attended Youth Mass for example. On the other hand he was struck by seeing a young Dominican in his full habit by his church, and the fact that at what was essentially a private EF Mass for their party in the church reserved for that use in Turin they found themselves rapidly joined by many others, and that there was a real desire, even hunger, for Traditional forms of liturgy.
The fourth fact was the sense that something was missing in Turin - the Monarchy. With four royal palaces and numerous institutions with the prefix Royal, and the arms of the House of Savoy in churches and on public buildings it seemed incomplete without the actual presence of the family as rulers. I heartily concurred. Without raising the whole question of Italian Unification and the Roman Question, no-one can deny the rightful claim of the House of Savoy to rule the Kingdom of Sardinia and particularly their ancestral lands in Piedmont.