Pope prays before Shroud of Turin

The shroud of Turin allowed Pope Benedict XVI a rare moment of reprieve from the raging clerical child sex scandal yesterday as he prayed before the relic after performing open air Mass with some 25,000 faithful in the Italian city. "The Holy Shroud eloquently reminds us always of the one who was crucified and who has shared our suffering," the pontiff said.

Considerable doubts that the cloth really is the burial shroud of Jesus have not deterred pilgrims. More than 2 million people are expected to view the cloth in Turin's cathedral during its 10-week display. It is the first time that the 14ft by 3ft 6in cloth has gone on public display since its restoration in 2002 . At the start of Mass, Turin's archbishop, Cardinal Severino Poletto, welcomed Benedict to pray before the relic. Cardinal Poletto said the shroud "speaks in an impressive way of the Passion of Christ". But the Catholic Church carefully avoids opining on the relic's authenticity. Instead it merely says the relic encourages and galvanises the faithful.

For a few hours, the beleaguered Pope had some welcome respite from the ongoing meetings related to clerical paedophilia. In the past week, he has met German bishops to discuss one high-profile resignation and he has another such meeting tomorrow with Belgian bishops.

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