Face to face with the Holy Face
Like the psalmist who cries out, “Your face, Lord, do I seek; hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27: 8-9), sometimes I long to see God’s face. I was feeling this way when I woke up on my 76th birthday last Jan. 22. I was telling myself that I’ve seen it all. Been there. Done that. And all that I wanted then was to see God and talk to Him face to face.
Call it coincidence or not, but after Mass that same day in our parish church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Quezon City, I noticed an announcement I had seen before but did not care much about. There was to be a parish-sponsored pilgrimage on Jan. 27 to, of all places, the Holy Face of Jesus Shrine in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija.
I did not know what to expect, but I decided there and then to join the pilgrimage.
Upon arrival at the parish church of the Immaculate Conception in Nampicuan on the day of the pilgrimage, I headed straight to the main attraction of the shrine, a framed replica of the Holy Face of Manoppello in Italy.
The information leaflet given to us says that the original veil with the imprint of the Holy Face measures 6.7 by 9.5 inches. The expensive cloth was woven from rare “sea silk” fiber that had been taken from the whiskers of a mollusk called “byssus.” The veil is transparent, with the beautiful image of the face of Jesus remaining clearly visible whether viewed from the front or the back.
The cloth is also such that no paint or ink can adhere to it. How the image of the Holy Face of Jesus got imprinted on the veil remains a mystery. It is acknowledged by the Catholic Church that the image is not made by human hands, but by supernatural means.
The official information emphasizes that it is not the same veil that a pious woman named Veronica used to wipe the face of Christ in the old Stations of the Cross. Rather, it is the veil that was placed on the face of the dead Jesus when he was buried according to Jewish tradition (John 20:1-9).
Historical records say this same veil traveled from Jerusalem and other places until it reached Rome, where it was kept in a vault starting the year 705. Sometime between 1506 and 1527, the veil disappeared.
According to Capuchin friar Donato da Bomba’s history of the veil, one day an unknown pilgrim at the church square of Manoppello just outside of Rome approached a certain Dr. Antonio Leonelli. The pilgrim asked Leonelli to follow him inside the church, where he handed the doctor a bundle. Leonelli unwrapped it and saw the beautiful image of the face of Christ. Leonelli tried to thank him, but the pilgrim had already vanished without a trace. In 1638, Antonio de Fabritiis bought the veil from the Leonellis and gave it for safekeeping to the Capuchin Friars’ community in Manoppello, where it has stayed to this day.
How a replica of the Holy Face of Manoppello came to the small parish of the Immaculate Conception in the little agricultural town of Nampicuan is an awe-inspiring story in itself. One could also ask: Why Nampicuan? But does not God often choose the lowly?
Feeling inspired and with still an hour before the Mass, I sat before the Holy Face praying as if talking to a friend. I realized then why Jesus still gifted us with an imprint of His Holy Face after He had already given us the Eucharist: God understands our human longing to see His face even in this life. And the invisible God, out of love for us, provided us with the human face of His son Jesus so that we can see God as we talk and pray to Him.
God has always been this way even in the days before Christ. We see this intimate face-to-face relationship between God and Moses, and between God and the prophets.
In those days, however, Moses and the prophets would speak to God on behalf of others. Today, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we no longer need someone to speak for us. Instead, we can directly enter into a relationship with God through Jesus.
And talk to Him as one speaks to a friend. Face to face.
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Danilo G. Mendiola, 76, is a retired from corporate work. He and his wife now work as volunteer coordinators in the Marriage Prep Ministry of their parish in Quezon City.
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