Badde: And how do you answer the voices that claim the portrait of Christ on the veil of Manoppello is simply "painted" and indeed from a human hand, probably during the time of the Renaissance?
Archbishop Forte: The Veil of Manoppello was tested under an electron microscope and even in extra enlargements, no traces of paint were found. The image was not painted; rather, it is a true image – and that makes it even more precious because it provides us with a kind of authentic image which we have of the Redeemer of the world.
Badde: In Germany – especially since Rudolf Bultmann - the supposition that Jesus was risen only "in kerygma" meaning in the faith and in the speech and in the preaching of the apostles was frequent even among theologians. Christ could not possibly be raised from the dead. How do you as a theologian bring this modern line of thought within the Church together with the process of the rediscovery of the Holy Sudarium over the last 40 years in the Diocese of Chieti-Vasto?
Archbishop Forte: The theses of Bultmann's existentialist interpretation have been academically obsolete for a while thanks to the return and development of research on the historical Jesus. In the gap of time between the death of Jesus on the cross and the new beginning of Easter, something essential must have happened in order to transform the frightened and fleeing disciples on Good Friday into the bold heralds of the resurrection of Christ on Easter. This "something" was not a fruit of hysterical imagination of the events as, for example, Ernest Renan declared; rather, it approaches them externally as an unexpected gift that transformed their sorrow into joy and their fear into audacious courage and their escape from Jerusalem into a new life and worldwide mission. To conclude, there is almost complete unanimity in serious research since then on the historical Jesus.
Badde: Since Pope Benedict's visit 10 years ago, the Volto Santo draws more pilgrims from the whole world to Manoppello, including countless bishops from every continent. What other implications did Pope Benedict's "private visit" have on your diocese and on your faith?
Archbishop Forte: Certainly Pope Benedict's visit, which was accompanied by more than 300 media representatives and about 70 television channels from the whole world, raised the awareness of the holy face of Manoppello to a truly planetary level and drew waves of pilgrims here. What delights me even more as a believer and shepherd is this: that the visits of the "Volto Santo" are kind of bound all together with personal confession and participation in sacramental Confession and the Eucharist; and that is not an aesthetic phenomena, but a thoroughly deep and transformative encounter with the risen Christ. And that is truly a wonderful gift to us all.
Badde: On this coming September 18th, you will receive 70 Catholic and Orthodox bishops before the Holy Face in Manoppello. In 2005 you invited Pope Benedict to the Holy Veil. How did these bold and audacious initiatives come about?
Archbishop Forte: Here I must specify that Pope Benedict's decision to come to the Volto Santo was made by he himself, and totally alone. He shared that with me even before his election to be the Successor of Peter and after the election in the course of an audience, in which I participated as member of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. This initiative was a great gift from him. I was very happy about that and it filled me with great thankfulness towards him.
Badde: What will you tell Pope Francis about the concrete "Misericordiae Vultus" (Face of Mercy) in Manoppello, if the opportunity should ever arise?
Archbishop Forte: I have already spoken enthusiastically with his Holiness about the Holy Face of Manoppello and also sent him a beautiful reproduction. For that reason, I leave it all now in his hands and in the hands of God. It lies there now and will continue on in the right manner.
Translation by R. Andrew Krema.
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This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 6, 2016