TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE CONVENTION
"GOD DOES NOT HAVE MORE HERE? DECOMMISSION OF PLACES OF CULT
AND INTEGRATED MANAGEMENT OF ECCLESIASTICAL CULTURAL HERITAGE "
[PONTIFICAL GREGORIAN UNIVERSITY, 29-30 NOVEMBER 2018]
To the Venerable Brother
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
I address a cordial greeting to the participants at the Convention, convened by the Pontifical Council for Culture, in collaboration with the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Pontifical Gregorian University, on the dismissal of churches and their ecclesial reuse and on the management of cultural heritage integrated into ordinary pastoral care, and I express my gratitude to the distinguished speakers and organizers of the initiative.
St. Paul VI, a pastor very sensitive to the values of culture, addressing the participants in a conference of ecclesiastical archivists, said that taking care of the documents is equivalent to having the cult of Christ, to have the sense of the Church, telling ourselves and who will come after us the history of the «transitus Domini» in the world (cf. Discourse to ecclesiastical archivists, September 26, 1963: Insegnamenti, I , 615). This happy expression can naturally be extended to all the cultural heritage of the Church.
Also St. John Paul II, particularly attentive to the pastoral relevance of art and cultural heritage, said: «In formulating their pastoral projects, the local Churches will not fail to use their cultural heritage adequately. These, in fact, have a singular ability to push people to a deeper perception of the values of the spirit and, witnessing in various ways the presence of God in the history of men and in the life of the Church, they have the hearts of the acceptance of the evangelical novelty. »(Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, March 31, 2000: Insegnamenti, XXIII , 505).
I myself have intended to give a more markedly social expression to theological theology, affirming, for example, in the Encyclical Laudato, that "paying attention to beauty and loving it helps us to get out of utilitarian pragmatism" (n.215); as well as recalling, in a speech to the Pontifical Academies, the importance of the work of architects and artists in the redevelopment and rebirth of urban suburbs and in general in the creation of urban contexts that safeguard the dignity of man (cf. Message to the XXI participants Public Meeting of the Pontifical Academies, 6 December 2016).
Following the thought of the ecclesial Magisterium, we can therefore elaborate almost a theological discourse on cultural heritage, considering that they are part of the sacred liturgy, evangelization and the exercise of charity. In fact, they are in the first place among those "things" (res) that are (or have been) instruments of worship, "holy signs" according to the expression of the theologian Romano Guardini (The spirit of the liturgy. 1930, 113-204), "res ad sacrum cultum pertinentes", according to the definition of the conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (No. 122). The common sense of the faithful perceives for the environments and objects destined to worship the permanence of a kind of imprint that does not end even after they have lost this destination.
Furthermore, the ecclesiastical cultural assets are witnesses of the faith of the community that has produced them over the centuries and for this reason they are in their own way instruments of evangelization that are flanked by the ordinary instruments of proclamation, preaching and catechesis. But their original eloquence can be preserved even when they are no longer used in the ordinary life of the people of God, especially through a correct museum exhibition, which does not consider them only documents of the history of art, but gives them back almost a new life, so that they can continue to carry out an ecclesial mission.
Finally, cultural assets are aimed at the charitable activities carried out by the ecclesial community. This is highlighted for example in the Passio of the Roman martyr Lorenzo, where it is said that he "had the order to deliver the treasures of the Church, showed the tyrant, making fun of it, the poor, who had nourished and dressed with the goods. data in alms "(Martyrologium Romanum, editio altera, Typis Vaticanis 2004, 444). And sacred iconography has often interpreted this tradition by showing Saint Lawrence in the act of selling the precious furnishings of the cult and distributing the proceeds to the poor. This constitutes a constant ecclesial teaching which, while inculcating the duty of protection and conservation of the Church's goods, and in particular of cultural heritage, declares that they do not have an absolute value, but in case of necessity they must serve the greater good of being human and especially at the service of the poor.
Well therefore opportunely in these days your Conference is placed. The observation that many churches, until a few years ago necessary, now no longer, due to the lack of faithful and clergy, or a different distribution of population in cities and rural areas, should be welcomed in the Church not with anxiety, but as a sign of the times that invites us to reflection and requires us to adapt. It is what in some way affirms the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium when, claiming the superiority of time on space, declares that "giving priority to time means taking care of starting processes rather than possessing spaces. Time orders spaces, illuminates them and transforms them into rings of a constantly growing chain, without reverse gear "(No. 223).
This reflection, initiated a long time on the technical level in the academic and professional, has already been addressed by some episcopates. The contribution of the present conference is certainly to make people perceive the breadth of the problems, but also to share virtuous experiences, thanks to the presence of the delegates of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe and some countries of North America and Oceania.
The conference will certainly give suggestions and indicate lines of action, but the concrete and ultimate choices will be given to the Bishops. I warmly recommend to them that every decision is the result of a vocal reflection conducted within the Christian community and in dialogue with the civil community. Disposal should not be the first and only solution to think about, nor ever be carried out with a scandal of the faithful. Should it be necessary, it should be inserted in time in the ordinary pastoral planning, be preceded by adequate information and be shared as much as possible.
In the First Book of the Maccabees we read that, once Jerusalem was liberated and the temple defiled by the pagans restored, the liberators, having to decide the fate of the stones of the old demolished altar, preferred to put them aside "until a prophet appeared to decide them" (4.46). Even the building of a church or its new destination are not operations that can only be treated technically or economically, but must be evaluated according to the spirit of the prophecy: through them, in fact, passes the testimony of the faith of the Church, which welcomes and enhances the presence of his Lord in history.
In looking forward to the best outcome of the Convention, I cordially impart to you, dear Brother, the collaborators, the speakers and all the participants the Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 29 November 2018