Pope Francis will visit the Shroud of Turin during its public display in Turin's cathedral April 19-June 24, 2015, as well as commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco.
"I am happy to announce that, God willing, on June 21, I will go on pilgrimage to Turin to venerate the Holy Shroud and to honor St. John Bosco on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth," the pope announced Wednesday at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square.
The rare public exhibition of the shroud is part of a yearlong celebration of the saint, founder of the Salesians, who worked in Turin, dedicating his life to helping and educating young people at a time of economic and social difficulties caused by industrialization in the second half of the 19th century.
"The pope comes as a pilgrim of faith and of love," Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, papal custodian of the Shroud of Turin, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday at the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI visited the shroud during its last public exhibition in 2010, as did St. John Paul II in 1998, in 1980 and in 1978, before being elected pope.
"Like his predecessors, Pope Francis, too, confirms that devotion to the shroud that millions and millions of pilgrims recognize as a sign of the mystery of the passion and death of the Lord, thereby renewing faith in him and finding strength in that hope that springs from the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord," the archbishop said.
According to tradition, the 14-foot-by-4-foot linen cloth is the burial shroud of Jesus. The shroud has a full-length photonegative image of a man, front and back, bearing signs of wounds that correspond to the Gospel accounts of the torture Jesus endured in his passion and death.
The church has never officially ruled on the shroud's authenticity, saying judgments about its age and origin belonged to scientific investigation. Scientists have debated its authenticity for decades, and studies have led to conflicting results.
The archbishop and other organizers of the exhibition told reporters they expect at least 1 million people from all over the world to visit during the two-month-long public exposition.
While visits to the display in the city's cathedral will be free, reservations are mandatory in order to regulate the massive flow of visitors that is expected, organizers said. Reservations will be made only online on the official site: sindone.org.
In addition to special services and accommodations for those who are sick or infirm, and initiatives tailored for young people, organizers are planning moments of study and prayer, and the availability of the sacrament of reconciliation in a number of languages.
All donations made by pilgrims during the event will be earmarked for a hospice for the terminally ill, officials announced. People may make donations not only in the traditional containers inside the cathedral, but also by sending a text message to a dedicated number that was yet to be announced.