Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Jim Bertrand of St. Peter Parish in Lincoln is a science teacher who loves objective data. That’s one of the reasons he relishes every opportunity he’s given to explain how people can know the Shroud of Turin is authentic.
The Shroud of Turin is a linen burial cloth that is believed to have covered the body of Jesus after His crucifixion.
In June 2015, Pope Francis called the Shroud an “icon of love” after visiting Turin in Northern Italy to see and pray before the relic.
Measuring 14.5 feet long and 3.5 feet long, the Shroud was owned by the Dukes of Savory – the former ruling family of Italy – from the mid 14th century until the late 1980s, when it became the property of the Catholic Church. It bears the image of a man who had been crucified, with evidence of wounds on the head, hands, feet and side.
Scientists have studied the Shroud since the early 1900s. While some claim the cloth is a forgery, many others point to a host of evidence that says otherwise.
Bertrand first read about the Shroud in a National Geographic magazine article in 1981. The publication featured many photos from a 1978 scientific study called the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP).
“My reaction was, ‘How could this not be authentic?’” Bertrand said. “The answer is, only if it were done by an artist. And one of the conclusions of the STURP study was that it is not the work of an artist.”
He continued. “That claim has withstood more than 35 years of intense scientific scrutiny and still stands. That’s usually a characteristic of sound science.”
In 2014, Dr. John Jackson, STRUP team leader, and Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, founded the American Confraternity of the Holy Shroud to help people learn about the shroud and grow closer to Jesus. Dr. Jackson and Bertrand had been friends for years following the former’s 1996 Shroud presentation in Lincoln.
“Dr. Jackson and his colleague, Robert Siefker of Denver, invited me to the International Shroud Conference in St. Louis in October 2014, and asked me if I could take the Critical Summary and summarize it into a PowerPoint presentation.”
The Critical Summary is 148 pages that span four decades of research. Bertrand’s presentation became a pilot program of training people within their own dioceses to present factual information about the Shroud.
Since then, Bertrand has been fine-tuning the prototype presentation by presenting in front of 100 different audiences in the Diocese of Lincoln.
“Audience response tells me it is working,” he said. “We are prepared to train new people this October to take this presentation and spread it across their respective dioceses.”
To accompany the PowerPoint presentation, Bertrand purchased a $2,000 exact replica of the shroud with the help of his parish’s Knights of Columbus Council #10510 and the St. Peter PCCW. When Bertrand retires from giving these Shroud presentations, the replica will be returned to his parish and put on permanent display.
Bertrand, who teaches science at Pius X High School in Lincoln, is clearly enthusiastic about taking his presentation into parishes, schools and other organizations.
“At first, it was the joy of just sharing the wonderful harmony of faith and reason, and to see that people understood,” he said. “But over time, I have become more intensely prayerful in preparing for these presentations, and I have witnessed an amazing dynamic of the Holy Spirit touching souls.”
His preparation includes a nine-day novena before every presentation. He prays for open hearts and minds, willing to learn the message the Lord wishes to give them through Bertrand’s presentation.
“It is so edifying to see so many people come up afterwards and share their joy and faith in the Resurrection, as a result of having seen this presentation.” he exclaimed.
He recalled the Spirit-filled enthusiasm of the seminarians at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton when he presented there, and the more than 100 people of all ages who turned out at Boystown to see his presentation. But his favorite presentation to date might be his visit to the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Agnew.
“When they opened shutters behind the grill and I looked across those 30 shining faces, I felt like I was seeing a vision,” he remembered. “They radiated such a joy I was speechless for a few seconds.”
Bertrand said he believes the Shroud enables people to bring together reason and faith.
“In the case of the Shroud, the factual scientific findings on the Shroud are consistent with our faith,” he said. “We need to embrace all of reality - both the seen and unseen, as we profess in the Nicene Creed every Sunday.”
He paraphrased Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “If faith were a mere mathematical formula, it would impose itself and there would be no such thing as true faith, only proven mathematical formulas,” he said, adding, “If one’s view of reality is limited only to the physical world, that is a very limited view of reality indeed.”
Bertrand is willing to continue to give these presentations as long as he is able.
“God must really have a sense of humor, choosing someone like me, a middle-aged man who wears hearing aids, to be an instrument for such an important item as the Holy Shroud,” he said. “I like science and I love my Catholic faith, so perhaps God wants me to do this. He has certainly opened many doors for me.”