In his latest act of papal charity, Pope Francis has donated funds for two busloads of homeless and sick pilgrims to visit the Shroud of Turin. They will stay in two charitable centers that offer shelter to the homeless during the winter.
The trips will “prepare the way for the Pope’s visit which is scheduled to take place on June 21: his poor arrive before him," the papal almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, told Italian newspaper La Stampa in an article published June 3.
Pope Francis himself is scheduled to venerate the shroud during a June 21-22 visit to the northern Italian region.
The Shroud of Turin is among the most well-known relics connected with Christ’s Passion. Venerated for centuries by Christians as the burial shroud of Jesus, it has been subject to intense scientific study to ascertain its authenticity, and the origins of the image.
A little more than 14 ft. long and 3-and-a-half feet wide, the cloth is stained with the post-mortem image of a man – front and back – who has been brutally tortured and crucified.
In a rare exposition, the shroud is on display to the public from April 19 to June 24, having most recently been shown in 2010.
Paid for by the archbishop with money donated to the Pope for his personal charity endeavors, the buses of needy, homeless and sick pilgrims headed to Turin are divided into two groups.
The first group of 50 left the morning of June 3 from the Roman parish of Santa Lucia in Piazzale Clodio, which is a meeting point for Rome’s needy to convene for help and a hot meal.
Once they arrive in Turin, the “Pope’s poor" will stay at the Cottolengo and Maria Adelaide centers, which provide shelter for homeless during the winter season.
Fr. Antonio Nicolai, the parish priest, is accompanying the group. Their visit to the Shroud is planned for June 4.
“This trip is a treat offered by Pope Francis to our homeless brothers," Fr. Nicoloai told La Stampa.
“When he learned about this pilgrimage, he wished, through his almoner, who is in charge of charitable works, to give a contribution to these people living in a precarious state. This is because he believes that like the Shroud, they represent the suffering of the Lord Jesus," he said.
A larger group of 70 poor and homeless is set to visit the Shroud next week. They are scheduled to set off from the Roman parish Sant’Eustachio on board a double-decker bus, and will be accompanied by the parish priest and a number of volunteers.
Archbishop Krajewski was present at Santa Lucia June 3 to greet the first busload and offer them a small amount of money on behalf of the Pope, so they could buy themselves a cappuccino or another drink during the several-hour bus ride.
“We must feed those in difficulty, not just with bread, but also give them the chance to enjoy beauty – hence the visit to the Sistine Chapel – or to join other pilgrims in experiencing important moments like the Ostension (Showing) of the Holy Shroud," the archbishop said.
He referred to a March 26 event in which 150 of Rome’s homeless were invited for dinner and a private tour of the Vatican Museums, culminating in the Sistine Chapel.
In a March 30, 2013, video message sent out for the televised showing of the Shroud of Turin, Pope Francis said: “This disfigured face resembles all those faces of men and women marred by a life which does not respect their dignity, by war and violence which afflict the weakest."
It is because of this, Archbishop Krajewski said, that the Pope decided to send two groups of pilgrims that are for him very special in order to prepare for this own visit.
In addition to a stop at the Shroud, Pope Francis’ schedule for his two-day trip also includes a visit to a juvenile prison, where he will have lunch with the young detainees, a group of immigrants and homeless persons.
Other highlights of the trip will include Sunday morning Mass in Piazza Vittorio, followed by a meeting with the sick and disabled in the afternoon at the Church of Cottolengo.
On Monday during his trip the Pope will take part in an ecumenical meeting at the Tempio Valdese (Waldensian Temple), followed by Mass at the archbishop’s palace. He will depart for Rome by plane at 5 p.m.