On Friday of Easter Week, Pope Benedict XVI’s special envoy Cardinal Marc Ouellet, presided over a ceremony opening the pilgrimage to the Holy Tunic, preserved in the Cathedral of Trier in Germany. The relic, piously believed to be the ‘seamless garment’ worn by Christ at the Passion, was exposed for the veneration of the faithful for only the fourth time in the last hundred years. According to legend, the Holy Tunic was brought to Trier – at the time, the capital of Gaul – by St. Helena, the mother of the Constantine.
This year’s pilgrimage marks the 500th anniversary of the first public exposition of the Tunic in the year 1512. In a message to the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, Pope Benedict said he would be present in thought with all the pilgrims who come to venerate the relic. The Holy Father said the Tunic is a symbol of the Church, which lives “not by its own power, but through the action of God.” “This garment,” the Pope said, “is the undivided gift of the Crucified One to the Church, which He has sanctified with His blood. For this reason, the Holy Tunic reminds the Church of her dignity.” (The full text of the Pope’s message can be found below.)
As many as half a million pilgrims are expected to visit Trier during the four weeks (April 13 – May13) when the Sacred Tunic will be exposed.
Message of Pope Benedict for the Pilgrimage to the Holy Tunic of Trier
To my Venerable Brother Stephan Ackermann, Bishop of Trier
In the coming days, in the great cathedral of Trier, the exposition of the Sacred Tunic will take place – exactly five hundred years after its first public appearance at the hands of Archbishop Richard von Greiffenklau, at the request of the Emperor Maximilian I, when the high altar was consecrated. On this special occasion I come as a pilgrim, in thought, to the ancient and venerable episcopal city of Trier, to join the ranks of the faithful who will take part in the pilgrimage to the Holy Tunic in the coming weeks. I want to assure you, your Excellency, and also your brothers in the episcopal ministry, the priests and deacons, the religious brothers and sisters, and all those who have gathered in the Cathedral of Trier for the opening of the pilgrimage, of the fraternal closeness of the Successor of Peter.
Since its first exposition in the year 1512 the Holy Tunic has attracted the faithful. This relic makes present the final dramatic moments of the earthly life of Jesus: His death on the cross. The soldiers’ division of the garments of the crucifixion might seem to be only a marginal episode, to which the Synoptic Gospels allude only in passing. The evangelist John, however, develops this episode with a certain solemnity. It is the only mention of the tunic which was “seamless, woven in one piece from the top down” (Jn 19, 23). It makes explicit the event and help us, thanks to the relic, to look with faith on the Mystery of salvation.
The tunic, John says, is all of one piece. The soldiers who, according to Roman custom, divide the meagre effects of the One who is crucified, do not want to tear the tunic. They cast lots, and thus it remains whole. The Fathers of the Church see in this passage the unity of the Church, founded as a unique and indivisible community by the love of Christ. The Holy Tunic intends to make it visible. The love of Saviour holds together that which is divided. The Church is the unity of the many. Christ does not abolish the plurality of men, but links it together with being Christians, one for the other and with the other, so much so that they might become, in their diversity, mediators with God.
The Robe of Christ is “woven in one piece, from the top down” (Jn 19, 23). This too is an image of the Church that lives not by its own strength, but through the action of God. As a unique and undivided community it is the work of God, not the product of men and their abilities. The Holy Tunic ought to be, at the same time, a warning to the Church to remain faithful to its origins, to become aware that its unity, its consensus, its effectiveness, its testimony – which is ultimately a work from above – can only be a gift from God. It is only when Peter confessed: “You are the Christ” (cf. Matt 16:16), that he received the power of binding and loosing, and thus the ministry of service for the unity of the Church.
The Holy Tunic, finally, is not a toga, an elegant garment that expresses a role in society. It is a modest garment that serves to cover and protect the wearer, keeping him from exposure. This garment is the undivided gift of the Crucified to the Church that He has sanctified with His blood. For this reason, the Holy Tunic reminds the Church of her dignity. But how often do we see that we bear in fragile vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4, 7) the treasure Christ has entrusted to us in the Church? that, on account of our own selfishness, our weaknesses and errors, the integrity of the Body of Christ is wounded? There is need of a constant openness to conversion and humility, that we might be disciples of the Lord in love and in truth. At the same time, the particular dignity and integrity of the Church can not be sold and abandoned to the noise of a summary judgment on the part of public opinion.
The Jubilee Pilgrimage has as its motto an invocation to the Lord: “Restore unity to that which is divided.” We do not want to remain trapped in isolation. We desire to call upon the Lord to guide us in the common journey of faith, and to make the content of the faith to live again. And so, growing together as Christians in faith, prayer and witness, in the midst of the trials of our time, we can confess His magnificence and His goodness. For this reason, to you and to all those who take part in the pilgrimage to the Holy Tunic in these weeks of celebration, I impart my heartfelt apostolic blessing.