Science, mystery and faith collide in Shroud of Turin: Local speakers to make case next week
Apr 3, 2019
Separate talks on April 8, April 10 to offer background, perspective on world's most studied and revered Christian artifact
DETROIT — In 2010, Fr. Terry Donahue, CC, had the rare opportunity to see the Shroud of Turin at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. The linen, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus, is only on display a few times each century.
“After a long line-up, our group entered the cathedral in total silence. My eyes were drawn to the cloth with its backlit display, showing the faint details of the image of a crucified man,” Fr. Donahue told Detroit Catholic.
“I was immediately struck by the world-changing importance of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Vivid memories returned of my encounter with Christ on the cross some 23 years earlier — that he suffered all this for love of me. The shroud is a silent witness to our savior who laid down his life for us.”
Next week, the shroud will be the topic of a pair of talks given by Fr. Donahue and David J. Conrad, MA, ecumenical and interfaith adviser to Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, each of whom will share their reflections and research on what's been the most studied artifact in Christian history.
Fr. Donahue, a member of the Companions of the Cross and chaplain at Wayne State University, will give his presentation, titled “Is This the Face of God?,” on April 8 at the Royal Oak Taphouse as part of the Archdiocese of Detroit's Theology on Tap series. The event begins at 6:30 p.m., with the presentation starting at 7.
Fr. Donahue’s presentation will offer a glimpse of the shroud through the lenses of science, medicine and history to better inform the faith of believers and capture the attention of scientists, skeptics and techies who might not otherwise attend a “religious” presentation, he said.
“Because so many different claims have been made about the shroud, there is a need to sift through the claims to see which are strongly supported by the evidence and which claims are speculative or discredited by skeptics,” Fr. Donahue said.
“Unfortunately, some talks on the shroud uncritically include every claim ever made that points to its authenticity. This approach might impress believers, but it can also give skeptics the impression that Catholics are too credulous and not rigorous in their thinking,” Fr. Donahue said. “It might even lead skeptics to not take the Church seriously on other matters. I think it is important to have Catholics with a scientific background sift through the evidence for the various claims about the shroud, using 'reasonable skepticism.’ My presentation is based on this approach.”
The intersection of faith and science is of particular interest to Fr. Donahue. Prior to his ordination in 2000, he earned a degree in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for five years as a computer graphics programmer. In recent years, he has played a role in seminarian and lay formation (developing and teaching courses on evangelization, apologetics, spirituality, morality and Ignatian discernment) and served as an English secretary for the apostolic nuncio to Canada.
Fr. Donahue hopes events like his presentation on April 8 and the recent Gold Masses for scientists (sponsored by the Society of Catholic Scientists) will help people realize that faith and science can both be valuable tools for uncovering truth.
Two days after Fr. Donahue's talk, Conrad will give his own presentation on the shroud. “Jesus: The Image of the Invisible God,” is being held in conjunction with a presanctified liturgy and Lenten potluck supper at 5:30 p.m., April 10, at SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Westland. His presentation includes a life-size backlit image of the linen, allowing the audience to see it in detail.
“The shroud mirrors the passion of Jesus we read in the Gospel … it is a window to the divine,” Conrad told Detroit Catholic. “When faced with the marks of Christ’s horrible suffering, one is compelled to reflect on the imprint it makes on our lives. We think about our own shrouds and how we can imitate Christ’s sacrificial love.”
In Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron stresses the value of ecumenism — the promotion of cooperation and unity among Christians — and the need for interfaith dialogue in southeast Michigan, Conrad said, pointing out that the shroud is a topic of special significance to Greek Orthodox Christians.
“Before the Fourth Crusade, the shroud resided in Constantinople (the seat of the Byzantine Empire) for 300 years,” Conrad said. “Despite our differences, this powerful icon can be looked at as a focal point that unites us in faith. We have Jesus in common and find joy in the Resurrection. The shroud reminds us that he is the solution to the enigma of suffering and death.
“It’s true there has been debate over the shroud’s authenticity; however, I believe the evidence is overwhelming in its favor. But does this matter? Faith is not based on a ‘thing;’ it’s based on a relationship,” Conrad continued. “Regardless of what you think about the shroud, it remains a powerful image representing the passion of Christ. It touches people and offers us a sense of majesty and peace.”
Conrad hopes his presentation will remind Catholics and Orthodox to pray Psalm 80 this Lent: “Light up your face and we shall be saved.”
“Throughout history, people have longed to see the face of the Lord,” Conrad said. “More than a historical study or scientific analysis, meditating on the shroud offers us this opportunity.”
Attend a presentation on the Shroud of Turin
- Fr. Terry Donahue, CC, will give a presentation titled “Is This the Face of God?,” at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 8 at the Royal Oak Taphouse, 714 S. Washington, Royal Oak. The event is part of the Archdiocese of Detroit's Theology on Tap series.
- David J. Conrad, MA, will give a presentation titled “Jesus: The Image of the Invisible God,” in conjunction with a presanctified liturgy and Lenten potluck supper at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 10, at SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, 36375 Joy Road, Westland.