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25 September 1997


Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to convey my greetings to you on the occasion of the second plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. I thank you for your dedicated work and I am particularly grateful to your President, Archbishop Francesco Marchisano, for having expressed your common sentiments. Your group has recently been enriched by new, well-qualified members, in order to be more representative of the Church’s universality and the diversity of cultures, through whose artistic expressions a manifold hymn of praise to God, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, can certainly be raised. An affectionate welcome to you all.

The theme of your meeting is of great interest: "The Cultural Heritage of the Church in Relation to Preparations for the Jubilee". As I wrote in Tertio millennio adveniente, in view of the Jubilee the Church is invited to reconsider the way she has taken during these 2,000 years of her history. Her cultural heritage represents an important part of the patrimony she has progressively built up for the sake of evangelization, education and charity. Indeed, Christianity has had an enormous effect in the fields of art with its various expressions, and in that of culture with its whole deposit of wisdom.

This session offers you a favourable opportunity to exchange experiences about what is being organized for the Jubilee in the various ecclesial situations for which you are the authoritative spokesmen. In addition, it enables you to gather suggestions that can be communicated to the competent institutions of the individual countries for whatever use seems appropriate in the context of their particular traditions.

In this first year of preparation for the historic event of the Year 2000, it is particularly the contemplation of the icon of Christ that must reinvigorate the spiritual strength of believers, so that they may love the Lord and witness to him at the present moment for the Church and for cultures, with the courage of holiness and the genius of art. The various artistic expressions and many forms of culture, which have been a privileged means of sowing the Gospel, demand close examination and a far-sighted critique at the end of this millennium, so that they can become capable of a new creative power and help bring about the "civilization of love".

2. "Cultural goods" are meant for human advancement and, in the ecclesial context, acquire a specific meaning since they are ordered to evangelization, religious practice and charity.

Their typology is various: painting, sculpture, architecture, mosaic, music, literature, theatre and cinema. These various artistic forms express the creative power of the human genius which, through symbolic figures, conveys a message transcending reality. If they are enlivened by spiritual inspiration, these works can help the soul in its search for the divine and can even serve as interesting pages of catechesis and ascesis.

Ecclesiastical libraries, for example, are not temples of sterile knowledge, but the privileged places of true wisdom which recount the history of man, the glory of the living God, through the efforts of those who have sought the mark of the divine being in fragments of creation and in the depths of souls.

Museums of sacred art are not storehouses for inanimate finds, but enduring nurseries in which the genius and spirituality of the community of believers is handed on.

Archives, especially ecclesiastical archives, not only preserve the course of human events but also lead to a meditation on the action of divine Providence in history, so that the documents preserved there become a memorial to the evangelization carried out in time and an authentic pastoral tool.

Dear friends, you are actively involved in safeguarding the priceless treasure of the Church’s cultural heritage, in preserving the historical memory of all that the Church has accomplished down the centuries, and in opening her to further developments in the liberal arts.

You have made the commitment, at this "opportune time" on the eve of the Jubilee, to present discreetly to our contemporaries all that the Church has done over the centuries in inculturating the faith, as well as to give wise encouragement to people of art and culture, so that by their works they might constantly seek the face of God and of man.

The objective of the countless activities being planned for the Holy Year is to emphasize the fundamental proclamation: "Christ, yesterday, today and for ever", through the contribution of every aspect of art and culture. He is the one Saviour of man and of the whole man. The efforts of your Commission to co-ordinate the artistic-cultural sector, through a special body which evaluates the many proposals for artistic events, are therefore praiseworthy.

In addition to the ancient vestiges are the new areopagi of culture and art, which can be fittingly used to encourage believers to grow in their faith and to bear witness to it with renewed strength. From the archeological sites to the most modern expressions of Christian art, contemporary man must be able to reread the Church’s history, and thus be helped to recognize the mysterious fascination of God’s saving plan.

3. The work entrusted to your Commission consists in giving pastoral and cultural guidance to ecclesial communities by making the most of the many expressive forms that the Church has produced and continues to produce at the service of the new evangelization of peoples.

It is a question of preserving the memory of the past and of safeguarding the visible monuments of the spirit with the continual, painstaking work of cataloguing, maintaining, restoring, preserving and protecting. Everyone with responsibility in this sector must be urged to make a priority commitment so that preserving the heritage of the faithful and of all human society receives the attention it deserves. This patrimony belongs to everyone, and so must become dear and familiar to all.

Moreover, new productions must be encouraged, by an interpersonal contact that is more attentive and available to those who work in this area, so that our era too may create works that document the faith and genius of the Church’s presence in history. Thus local ecclesiastical authorities and the various associations must be encouraged, to further the constant and close collaboration between the Church, culture and art.

It is also necessary to shed greater light on the pastoral meaning of this commitment, so that it may be perceived by the contemporary world, by believers and non-believers. To this end it is appropriate to encourage periods of formation in the diocesan communities for the clergy, for artists and for all those interested in the cultural heritage, so that the patrimony of art may be fully appreciated in the fields of culture and catechesis.

For this reason I commend your work in presenting the contribution made by Christianity to the culture of various peoples through the evangelizing activity of priests, religious and committed laity. Even a few centuries of evangelization have almost always produced artistic expressions destined to remain decisive in the history of various peoples.

It is appropriate to emphasize the most genuine forms of popular piety, with their own cultural roots. The importance of parochial, diocesan and regional ecclesiastical museums and of literary, musical, theatrical or cultural works of religious inspiration in general must be stressed, to give a concrete and beneficial appearance to the historical memory of Christianity.

To this end it will be useful to organize meetings at the national or diocesan level, in collaboration with cultural centres (universities, schools, seminaries, etc.), to highlight the patrimony of the Church’s cultural goods. It will also be useful to promote locally the study of religious or lay individuals who made a significant mark on the life of the nation or the Christian community, as well as to emphasize events in the nation’s history in which Christianity was decisive in various respects, notably in the field of art.

4. Enlivening the Holy Year with our cultural heritage thus unfolds ad intra through an appreciation of the heritage the Church has produced throughout these two millenniums of her presence in the world, and ad extra through the sensitization of artists, connoisseurs and and those in positions of responsibility.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Church, teacher of life, cannot fail to carry out the ministry of helping contemporary man to re-experience religious wonder at the fascination of beauty and wisdom stemming from all that history has bestowed on us. This task demands a diligent, long-lasting work of guidance, encouragement and exchange. I therefore renew to you my warmest thanks for all you are doing in this area, and I encourage you to continue with enthusiasm and competence in your valued service to culture, art and faith. This is your specific contribution to the preparatcion for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, so that the Church can continue to be present in today’s world by promoting every valid artistic expression and inspiring the development of the various cultures with the Gospel message.

I invoke divine assistance upon the work of your assembly, as I cordially bless each one of you and all who work with you in an area so important for the life of the Church.


© Copyright 1997 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana