March 27, 2001
volume 12, no. 86

Body of Pope John XXIII Reported Incorrupt

    VATICAN, Mar. 26, 01 (CWNews.com) -- The body of the Blessed John XXIII has been found intact, 37 years after his death, Italian newspapers have reported.

    After the beatification of Pope John XXIII last September, Pope John Paul II announced that the remains of the late pontiff would be moved to a more prominent burial place inside St. Peter's Basilica. The transfer was accomplished quietly on January 16 of this year. And according to reports published this past weekend in the Italian media, the Vatican workers who performed that task found that the body of Blessed John XXIII had not undergone decay.

    The Vatican has not offered any public statement on the reports. The body of Blessed John XXIII has been buried anew in a lead casket.

Face of Pope John XXIII found well preserved 38 years after death

By John Thavis, Catholic News Service

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Church officials who opened the casket of Pope John XXIII found his face well preserved nearly 38 years after his death, but the Vatican downplayed talk of a miracle.

    The discovery was made in mid-January, when Vatican officials and technicians exhumed Pope John's body in a ``recognition'' ceremony, in anticipation of its transferal from the grotto to the main level of St. Peter's Basilica.

    A detailed report on the procedure, drawn up by the officials present, was published by a Venetian newspaper March 24.

    The exhumation took several hours, since workmen had to open a marble casing and then three successive caskets: one of oak, one of lead and one of cypress, in which the body was closed.

    ``Once freed from the cloth that covered it, the face of the blessed (Pope John) appeared intact, with the eyes closed and the mouth slightly open, and bearing the features that immediately called to mind the familiar appearance of the venerated pontiff,'' the report said.

    The body was witnessed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and several others. After it was officially recognized, the body was sprayed with an anti-bacterial agent and the casket was resealed hermetically.

    Like other recent popes, the body of Pope John was not embalmed, although it was treated with chemicals so that it could be displayed for the faithful before burial.

    The discovery produced considerable surprise among church people in Rome, but Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, cautioned against reading too much into the finding.

    ``Objectively, the body was discovered to be preserved. But this does not necessarily mean that a supernatural event was involved,'' he said.

    A Vatican technician present at the exhumation said that in his view there was ``nothing miraculous'' about the preservation of Pope John's body.

    ``When he died, some measures were taken for the display of the body for the veneration of the faithful. It also should not be forgotten that the remains were kept in three caskets, one of which was sealed lead,'' Nazareno Gabrielli, a technician at the Vatican Museums, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera.

    Other experts said that while this type of preservation was unusual, it could be explained by the fact that little or no oxygen could have reached the remains.

    But popular Catholic writer Vittorio Messori appeared to speak for many Italians when he said it was clearly a miracle.

    ``When the body of a blessed or a saint is discovered to be uncorrupted, this is considered a sign, and is interpreted as an anticipation of the resurrection. So it is also a confirmation of sanctity,'' Messori said.

    Last year Pope John Paul II beatified Pope John XXIII, who is universally remembered for his sense of humanity and for his leadership in convoking the Second Vatican Council.

    Late last year, the Vatican approved plans to move Pope John's burial place to the main basilica level. It had attracted hundreds of visitors daily when it was located among other papal tombs in the subterranean level of St. Peter's.

March 27, 2001
volume 12, no. 86
News from ROME
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