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Fostering Encounter with Christ: St. Dominic Parish and the Shroud of Turin

June 24, 2016

When Michael Cumpton, a lawyer and parishioner at St. Dominic Parish in Mobile, AL, considered the situation of the Catholic Church in contemporary American society, he felt discouraged. A longtime volunteer attorney for the American Center of Law and Justice, he had become convinced that legal action alone could not preserve religious freedom or change contemporary attitudes toward the Church. So he called up his pastor, Fr. Jim Cink, and invited him to dinner.

“I’m convinced the only hope, not just for the United States of the America…but for the world, is to turn our hearts to Jesus,” Mr. Cumpton told Todd Sylvester and Patrick Alog of Alabama EWTN affiliate Archangel Radio. At that dinner, he and Fr. Cink discussed ideas that would energize and excite not only the parishioners at St. Dominic, but the whole community—Catholics and non-Catholics alike. During the conversation, Mr. Cumpton suggested organizing a program on the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud, a fourteen-foot piece of linen fabric believed to be the physical cloth in which the crucified Jesus was wrapped for burial, has provoked both fascination and skepticism since its first attested exhibition in medieval France. Both Fr. Cink and Mr. Cumpton realized that a program focusing on the Shroud could not only draw wide attendance from parishioners and the community, but would serve as an opportunity for engaging with the Church and, more importantly, with Jesus himself.

Drawing upon hundreds of hours from parish staff and volunteers, as well as donated and purchased artifacts, St. Dominic hosted a series of free presentations open to the public. Between February 22 and 25, 2016, attendees had the opportunity to view a number of artifacts related to the Shroud and Jesus’s life in a museum-like setting, including an authentic first-century Roman spearhead, replica Roman armor and weapons, and a life-size bust of Jesus based upon the features and measurements visible on the Shroud. An hour-long multimedia presentation on the latest scientific research on the Shroud followed, in which evidence regarding the authenticity of the Shroud was examined. Finally, guests were led from the parish hall into St. Dominic’s sanctuary, in which a full-sized, exact replica of the Shroud was displayed before the altar. Attendees were invited to spend as much time as they liked in prayer or contemplation; the parish also made stations available at which guests could receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, ask for intercessory prayer from parish volunteers, or learn more about the parish and the Catholic Church.

The program was a stunning success. Fr. Cink estimates that about 2,300 people visited St. Dominic over the four days, so many that the parish added an additional presentation to the schedule. Of these, about one third were parishioners; the rest were members of the wider community, including a significant number of Protestants and those of no particular faith commitment. Though the museum exhibit and multimedia presentations were very well-received, for Fr. Cink, “Letting people pray before the Shroud was the most prayerful piece.” He met attendees who had fallen away from their faith but whose experience with the Shroud motivated them to reconnect with the Church, and the event inspired at least one potential vocation to the priesthood. A number of nearby parishes and even dioceses in other states have also approached St. Dominic about organizing similar presentations or using the artifacts the parish has collected for their own exhibits.

In the meantime, however, St. Dominic is constructing a permanent display for the Shroud replica in their chapel. Since such replicas are rare, Fr. Cink hopes that making the one at St. Dominic available for public viewing and prayer will transform the parish into “a place of pilgrimage.” He is pleased with the success of the program and the impact it has had: allowing thousands of people—parishioners and non-parishioners, Catholics and non-Catholics—to encounter not just the physical evidence of Jesus’s death and burial, but the risen, living Christ. “The vision of reaching out beyond the doors of the church is what we hoped for,” he said. “And that’s what happened.”

By: Katherine Brown, Los Angeles, CA

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