TURIN, ITALY – Pope Francis on Sunday stopped to pray before an item some Christians believe is Jesus’ burial cloth, during a visit to the Italian city of Turin.
The Catholic Church has not taken an official position on the authenticity of the sheet, saying only that it is at least a powerful reminder of Jesus’ suffering.
The pope sat before the shroud in a cathedral in silent veneration, and touched the frame it was displayed in.
Francis was the latest in a string of popes to pray before the shroud, which is usually kept locked out of sight behind an altar, and is on display for only the third time in 17 years. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen it since the current display began in April.
The cloth, 4.4 m long, bears the image of a man who suffered injuries consistent with being crucified.
Radiocarbon dating carried out by three laboratories in Switzerland, Britain and the United States in 1988 concluded that it originated in the 13th or 14th century.
The marks, while uncannily blood-colored, have failed tests by serologists. Some analysis suggests that it is a paint containing red pigments, daubed on, rather than the imprint of a body created by some supernatural process.
The church has resolutely stopped short of authenticating the shroud, but acknowledges its power to focus Christians’ reflection.
Pope Pius XII called it a “holy thing perhaps like nothing else,” while Pope Benedict XVI said “it is a winding sheet that was wrapped round the body of a man who was crucified, corresponding in every way to what the Gospels tell us of Jesus.”
Many historians speculate it may have been a forgery to draw pilgrims to a certain church or to sell artefacts.
Meanwhile, in an early-morning address to thousands of workers and unemployed people in a Turin square, Francis said the mistreatment of migrants escaping war and injustice “makes one cry.”
He defended the right to employment and urged his listeners, even if they were going through hard times, to reach out to the 10 percent of the city’s population living in absolute poverty.
“Immigration increases competition but migrants should not be blamed because they are the victims of injustice, of this throw-away economy, of wars,” he said in the manufacturing district that was an engine of Italy’s postwar industrial rise. Departing from his prepared text, he added. “It makes one cry to see the spectacle of these days in which human beings have been treated like merchandise.”
Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is himself of immigrant stock. His grandparents and father emigrated to Argentina from the area around Turin.
Italy’s right-wing Northern League, which has won votes from people who say migrants leach resources, is very strong in the neighboring Lombardy and Veneto regions.