His remarks came on Holy Saturday, which falls between the commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Francis referred to the 14ft-long strip of sepia fabric, which is imprinted with the face and body of a bearded man, as “the Holy Shroud” and asked: “How is it that the faithful, like you, pause before this icon of a man scourged and crucified? It is because the Man of the Shroud invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth.
“This face has eyes that are closed, it is the face of one who is dead, and yet mysteriously he is watching us, and in silence he speaks to us.”
However his observations did not go beyond the non-committal approach taken by the Catholic Church on the question of the shroud’s authenticity. Observers noted that his use of the word “icon” fell short of the claim by some that the shroud is a “relic” of the crucifixion.
He likened the look of suffering on the face of the man to the pain and horrors endured by the victims of modern war and conflict.
“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. And yet at the same time the face in the shroud conveys a great peace; this tortured body expresses a sovereign majesty.”
Since being elected the successor to Benedict XVI earlier this month, the Argentinean Pope has repeatedly called for the need to protect the weak, vulnerable and dispossessed in society.
The Pope sent the message as an introduction to a 90-minute broadcast on RAI, the state television network, from Turin Cathedral, where the shroud is kept in a special climate-controlled case.
The broadcast on Saturday afternoon commemorated the 40th anniversary of the last time the shroud was shown for an extended period, live on Italian television, under Pope Paul VI in 1973.
The Vatican has never pronounced one way or the other whether it believes the shroud to be genuine.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, when he was still cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, . . .