It is important to make good use of beauty as a way of access to the faith, as “beauty has always been a way for evangelization,” according to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. This was the intention in setting up the “Via Pulchritudinis” (“Way of Beauty”) exhibition — which opened on Saturday and will close tomorrow, Tuesday, February 6, in the pavilions of Rome’s new fair.
The theme of the relationship between beauty and the sacred sphere is broad and very rich in history. To address it, the program of “Via Pulchritudinis” is very well articulated: four days of events and meetings between faith, culture and, not least, marketing. In fact, there are two whole pavilions with all sorts of products displayed for sacred art and the liturgy. Italian and foreign companies offer furnishings for churches, devotional objects, such as sacred images, vestments for the liturgy, candles and incense, and even wine and altar wafers to celebrate Mass. Hotels and Guest Houses can find all kinds of services for the catering and lodging of pilgrims visiting the traditional places of religious tourism, a sector that, according to statistics, involves 300 million people every year with a business of close to U.S.$18 billion.
Not lacking are meetings for professionals of the business, workshops and seminars to reflect further and concretely on Normative Aspects and the Taxation of Religious Entities, Cultural Goods and Catering, Tourism and Professional Hospitality. Another pavilion houses, instead, four round tables dedicated in particular to the relationship between beauty on one hand, and languages of the liturgy and liturgical furnishings on the other. There is talk of “Sacred Music,” “Sacred Architecture and Liturgical Space,” “Liturgical Furnishings” and “Sculpture, Mosaic and Stained Glass Windows,” with interventions by authoritative experts, such as Archbishop Massimo Palombella, Maestro of the Sistine Chapel; Archbishop Corrado Maggioni, Under-Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Ivan Rupnik, specialist in mosaic art and famous for his creations spread throughout the world, beginning with the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel. Finally, on the occasion of “Via Pulchritudinis,” another Chapel of Vatican City, the famous Sistine Chapel, hosted on Saturday evening a Concert by the Sistine Chapel Choir.
The exhibition was organized by Rome’s Fair in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. “As our Orthodox brothers say, when we celebrate the liturgy we celebrate paradise on earth,” said the President of the council, Archbishop Rino Fisichella; “then why be afraid of beautiful spaces in which one who prays is more moved to pray, one who doesn’t know the Church is more tempted to approach it, one who is far from us enters into dialogue with us?
Our churches, the works of art they contain, the stained glass windows, the liturgical furnishings themselves can be a way along which, thanks to the mystery of their beauty, we are referred back to the greatest mystery that surpasses all of us.”
Among the pavilions of Rome’s new Fair a small but lovely museum was created, which will be open the whole time of the “Via Pulchritudinis.” Exhibited there are drawings by Bernini and the famous, 3rd century statue of the Good Shepherd, from the Christian Pio Museum of the Vatican Museums, as well as liturgical and pastoral robes and tiaras belonging to Saint John Paul II and to Blessed Paul VI. There are also hammers and trowels used up to some decades ago for the opening of the Holy Doors of the Roman Basilicas during Holy Years. This exhibition can be regarded as a proof of the immense beauty produced by Christianity in two thousand years of history. And today, in times like the present in which sacred art seems to be going through a profound identity crisis, is it still able to do so?
“I’m certain that it can and I hope so,” answered Archbishop Fisichella, explaining that “the concept of beauty isn’t a static concept, it’s a dynamic concept; beauty grows, beauty is combined also with the richness that every person bears within him/herself. It’s about expressing beauty according to the spirit of our time, on the part of artists and musicians, and all those that are producers of beauty in the Church, to give to those that come after us a sense of how we received and lived beauty today.”
Finally, in connection with religious tourism, Archbishop Fisichella recalled that Pope Francis has just entrusted the competence on shrines to the dicastery he heads. “Shrines are extremely important places for the New Evangelization. However, to reach a shrine one must set out towards a place. Therefore, this can also be an occasion for many to discover the cultural richness that the Church has produced in history and I hope she will be able to continue to produce again.”