Pope in landmark meeting with artists in Sistine Chapel

22nd November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The pope urged non-believers to "enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite beauty."

Vatican City -- Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday sought to boost ties between the Roman Catholic Church and the art world as he met with dozens of artists in the Vatican's illustrious Sistine Chapel.

The pope urged non-believers to "enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite beauty."

He added: "Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them."

Welcoming the artists including architects, filmmakers and musicians in the "sanctuary of faith and human creativity," the pope urged them to be "fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty."

He asked: "What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation -- if not beauty?"

Around 70 of the crowd of some 260 artists came from abroad.

Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, considered a foremost exponent of Johann Sebastian Bach, told AFP: "Art used to have a very close relationship with the Church, which nowadays is not the case... Music for me (is) very linked to religious expression."

After an apogee during the Renaissance and subsequent Baroque periods, relations between the Vatican and the art world declined, notably from the 19th century.

Vatican expert Marco Politi said Benedict's address "on the one hand expressed enthusiasm for the beauty of art and on the other the fear the pope feels towards certain forms of contemporary art considered obscene."

Asked about the predominance of Europeans, especially Italians, on the guest list, Politi told AFP: "The pope is distressed over the fact that Europe, once the cradle and pillar of state Christianity, has become so secular."

The editorialist for the new left-wing daily Il Fatto Quotidiano added: "And Italy is the last rampart."

Saturday's meeting comes 45 years after a similar initiative by art-loving Pope Paul VI, who apologised for the Roman Catholic Church's attitude towards artists, and 10 years after Benedict's predecessor John Paul II, himself an accomplished playwright, wrote in a letter that the Church "needs art."

In Paul VI's meeting with artists, also in the Sistine Chapel, he told them they were precious to the Church for their "preaching and rendering accessible and comprehensible -- or better still, moving -- the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of the ineffable, of God."

Benedict, himself an accomplished pianist, said Saturday: "The experience of beauty does not remove us from reality, on the contrary, it leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it from darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful."

He told the artists: "You are the custodians of beauty: thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement."

AFP/Expatica

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