Several years ago on Easter Sunday the Italian paper La Stampa carried an interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of the semi-official Vatican journal Civiltà Cattolica, insisting that Pope Francis did not intend to “enter into the dispute over dating,” and that he meant instead to make a spiritual point by saying that the man of the shroud “speaks to the heart.” In his written message, Francis said that the face in the shroud “invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth. This image … speaks to our heart and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love.” “By means of the Holy Shroud, the unique and supreme Word of God comes to us: Love made man, incarnate in our history; the merciful love of God who has taken upon himself all the evil of the world to free us from its power,” Francis said.
Pope Francis dispatched a message for the new display of the Shroud in which he referred to the shroud as an “icon of a man scourged and crucified.” The use of the term “icon” rather than “relic” amounts to the usual Vatican caution, given that the Holy See has never officially pronounced on the shroud’s authenticity, though since Pope Julius II in 1506 it has encouraged devotion to the crucified Christ aroused by the cloth.
Benedict XVI also used the term “icon” in his message for a display of the shroud in May 2010, calling it an “icon written with the blood of a whipped man, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced on his right side.” In that sense, Francis did not stake out any new position, and he didn’t go as far as some of his predecessors.