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 CNS Story:

POPE-ARTISTS Sep-10-2009 (570 words) xxxi

Pope to meet artists in Sistine Chapel to rekindle faith-art dialogue

By Sarah Delaney
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has invited hundreds of artists to meet with him in the Vatican in an attempt to rekindle the special historical relationship between faith and art.

More than 500 personalities from the worlds of art, theater, literature and music have been asked to gather with the pope under the legendary Michelangelo frescoes in the Sistine Chapel Nov. 21.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the meeting was to be the first of many initiatives aimed at bridging the gap that has developed between spirituality and artistic expression over the last century or so.

At a news conference at the Vatican Sept. 10, Archbishop Ravasi said that separation could best be seen in the art and architecture of many modern churches, which he said "do not offer beauty, but rather ugliness."

He said the church hoped that dialogue could help artists regain the "transcendence" that once inspired the 16th-century painter and sculptor Michelangelo, his contemporaries and countless other artists of religious works over the centuries.

The guest list for the papal encounter is comprised of people who have made their mark in visual arts, architecture, literature, poetry, music and performing arts, including theater, dance, cinema and television.

Most of the list will be disclosed shortly before the event, but a few names of the invited were mentioned at the news conference: Italian film score composer Ennio Morricone, avant-garde theater director Bob Wilson, architect Daniel Libeskind, and Bono, the lead singer of the group U2. American video artist Bill Viola was asked but has already said he won't be able to attend.

Archbishop Ravasi said the meeting was conceived as a continuation of earlier papal rapprochements with contemporary culture. Forty-five years ago Pope Paul VI had a similar encounter with artists in the Sistine Chapel and some years later opened the Collection of Modern Religious Art within the Vatican Museums complex. And ten years ago Pope John Paul II wrote his "Letter to Artists," in which he complimented their work and urged a greater cooperation between the church and the arts.

Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, said at the news conference that contemporary religious art has been diminished by "bad taste." In medieval times, he said, the faithful lived poor and colorless lives, but found brilliant colors and "a glimpse of heaven" by going to churches filled with wonderful works of art.

"Nowadays," he said, "many people live in the dreary outskirts of cities, in ugly houses. They go to church and it's uglier still!"

Paolucci said that throughout history the Catholic Church had taken great risks in its patronage of new forms of art, and that the art inspired by the Christian faith had produced much of the world's greatest art.

Over the last century, however, artistic excellence and faith have separated and it's the job of people of culture to try to mend the rift, he said. The church, he said, must show the courage it showed in the past in confronting contemporary art.

Archbishop Ravasi said that choosing the artists for the Vatican event was the most difficult part, but that they were selected on the basis of their reputation and awards they had received. The day before meeting with the pope in the Sistine Chapel, the artists will get a special tour of the contemporary art collection at the Vatican Museums.


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