The “Veronicas” of Our World

The “Veronicas” of Our World

by Jo Doyle                           Ireland                            29.03.2024     

Gulu, Northern Uganda, June 1981
I saw him die, a brutal death.
Beaten by the soldiers chains and whips.
Unnecessary cruelty.
He was the wrong tribe. The tribe of Amin.
So he must be killed.
An innocent boy, living in a violent world that was just waiting for an excuse to hate, to be enraged.
Outrage, outrage! At being different.
No solace for anyone who does not fit in.
There were two of them, one dead already.
I felt the breathless fear of the other, waiting for that same outcome.
Such horror.
Death. Not yet.
“I am too young and innocent,” he whispers.
But no, he was different so must be killed.
The chains crashed into his head, his red blood screaming violence against his glistening black hair.
His vision blurring with disbelief that this could be happening to him.
His vision blurring by the blood and sweat of violence.
His vision blurring as his life began to drain away.
I stood at the side of the open-back Jeep, wanting to give him something. My hanky to wipe the destruction off his face. But my arms were lifeless, lost to fear.
I gave him all I had.
My eyes, my sight, my love.
We held each other’s gaze.
It was an unearned intimacy at a depth which imprinted life onto my soul.
He was murdered, caught in the gaze of my essence.
We shared a full lifetime in these few minutes.
Who was he? What was his name?
On reflection, years of un layering these few moments.
This was Good Friday.
An enactment of sorts.
The innocent Christ was dying in the arena of fear where no one stood beside him. There was one, a woman named Veronica.
An unknown anonymous woman. There is no mention of her, even in the Bible.
Although terrified, she reaches out. She sees the streaming blood fall on this man’s face and the unwarranted violence perpetuated. He had no friends on that journey. T his deserted man.
Alone with the alone in the crowd of perplexing misery.
She loses her fear to compassion and reaches out with her veil to wipe his face. A touch of love.
Oh the softness of her fabric, the smell of freshly baked bread upon it. Humanity is held gently upon his brokenness in a courageous act of mercy. The imprinted face of suffering forever on the veil of this Veronica.
I often felt I was a coward, unable to move, but I gave that young boy my eyes and let his life imprint my soul.

Now with this unknown woman. This hidden Veronica not mentioned in the Gospels is every mother, sister, woman who is unbearably called to witness violence.
She is the woman of Gaza holding her dead child for no purpose other than vengeance upon innocence.
She is the woman of Ukraine being bombarded with power, a demolition of grace, whilst her sons die for greed of another.

She is the woman of Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, weeping because her children are no more.
These are the hidden true women of this world.
The Vero-iconos of Christ, which means True Image in Latin.
True image of womanhood.
True image of courage.
True image of compassion.
We are these women, the Vero-iconos.
The gazers of mercy, or at least we are called to try.

Jo Wardhaugh Doyle is farming in Kildare with her husband Matt. She has worked in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, but more recently has worked with Sr Rita Kelly MMM doing the REAP programme in the Irish Missionary Union (IMU).