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 on Saturday, 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 ntact, 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 discovery produced considerable surprise among Church people in Rome, but a Vatican spokesman, Fr Ciro Benedettini, 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.