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Posts Tagged ‘Vatican wealth’

An interview from the Catholic News Agency with Abbot Michael John Zielinski, Vice President of the Pontifical Council for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and Sacred Archeology about our Holy Father, the awesome BXVI.  JPII spoke often of the importance of beauty too, so as the Abbott says, this is nothing new.  What IS new is the approach of Pope Benedict to the topic.  I don’t know what it is about this pope but he really seems to get to the heart of the matter, in grace, charity, patience, faithfulness and rationality. 

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2009 / 01:23 pm (CNA).- On November 22, Pope Benedict XVI attracted the eyes of the world to the Sistine Chapel where he welcomed a group of 250 international artists and urged them to renew an old friendship in the “quest for beauty.”  CNA interviewed Abbot Michael John Zielinski, Vice President of the Pontifical Council for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and Sacred Archeology, for further insight into the meaning of this ‘quest’ and its significance in this Papacy.

Commenting on the “via pulchritudinis,” beauty as a way to God, and the Holy Father’s recent emphasis on it, the Benedictine abbot replied, “This is nothing new.  Take a look at Pope Benedict XVI’s liturgy.  The Pope’s liturgy is not a return to tradition, it’s the way to tradition.  It is clearly the expression of… continuity.  He’s bringing out, as it were, making manifest the way of beauty to God.”

Zielinski then mused on the Pope’s awareness, “Have you seen him around people?  He listens very carefully.  He observes.”  The abbot recalled that during the Pope’s audiences, “he has these penetrating eyes.  He doesn’t observe the mass (of people), he observes the individuals…  In his spiritual life, he is also very observant.  He understands the needs of the Church.”

“I think we’ll truly understand this Pontificate in the future because he’s taking us to our principles,” opined the abbot.  “In a world where there’s inflation of words and images, his life of silence, prayer and study is truly a prophetic act today.”

Abbot Michael John alluded to a quote from Thomas Merton, the 20th Century Catholic writer, who once said, “prayer is losing time for God.”

“The Pope believes that ‘losing’ that time is important… You are prepared for the next life in that time.”

You might notice also, said the Benedictine, that the Pope’s “physical self is not over the top, you never see him moving about (exaggeratedly)…, whereas his thought is extensive, it has infinite horizons.”

“His Pontificate is so different from the last one and yet so complementary.”

The abbot the remarked that there is a reform ongoing in the Church, “the reform of Benedict XVI.”

Abbot Michael John said we will soon begin to see the fruits of the Pope’s “reform.”  “He’s preparing the younger generations.  He’s offering them a vision, a vision of life, the world and the church and what it means to be a Christian today.  He’s preparing us, opening the eyes of our hearts.”

“The vision,” Zielinski added, “is a hidden sense, a hidden desire, that of energy and force, and from this vision will come forth new life, … new forms, new expressions, new representations.”

“In Australia at World Youth Day, the young boys and girls returned home with eyes full of vision, and now,” he said, “the world is waiting to see what that vision is going to produce; they’ll write books, write music, build their houses, churches and cities.”

“Hopefully, it will be a life of peace and justice, … a life that can give witness to the Giver of life.”

American expert speaks on significance of Papal vision of beauty.

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La Pieta by an evangelist named Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence   Countless conversions have occurred at its pedestal.

La Pieta by an evangelist named Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence. Countless conversions have occurred at its pedestal.

From Paulist Father Tom Holahan at the Catholic News Service Blog (via Intentional Disciples) comes this beautiful description of the evangelizing qualities of Rome:

Rome, in its way, is a 500-year-old evangelization machine. The buildings and art created as a response to the Protestant critique still call to people who are searching and create a mood of reflection. Just before I arrived in Rome, I met an industrial psychologist who was a Christian but now follows a Native American practice. He told me that, when he went to the Vatican, sunbeams from the dome of the church hit Michelangelo’s Pieta and brought tears to his eyes.

A week ago I heard from two nuns, dressed in habits, who were stopped on the street by a Japanese tourist. She wanted to know, could they possibly spare a few moments to explain Christianity to her? Yesterday a Syrian found his way to our English-speaking church (he knew no Italian) asking the same question. He told me he had no particular faith, but he had been impressed with the Syrian Orthodox while in his own country and now, before he had to leave the country because of a document problem, he wanted to find out more. He asked his questions urgently, “And, so, Jesus was the Son of God?” “He promised eternal life?” Searching Americans approach the faith issue differently. One recently told me he “gave up on God” when the Supreme Being did not cure his depression and taking a little pill did. I said there may come a time when something can’t be fixed, then what?

Now friends, when you hear nonsense like “the Pope should sell the Vatican and give the money away to the poor”, you know the answer for yourself.  Even if the Pope could sell off Vatican treasures (he can’t) and there were someone to buy them (who could afford the price tag of the Pauline Chapel?), why would we sell off one of the best conversion-delivery systems we have?  That is why we are here, to bring ourselves closer to our Lord and bring all the world the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The wonder that is Rome– the collection of centuries of sacred art, architecture, and culture– belongs to all of us, rich and poor alike, Italian, American, Japanese, Syrian, Catholic or Agnostic who may walk around not only Rome but within the Vatican and share in their treasures, and bask in their beauty.  It is this beauty through which God permits His grace to flow, changing minds and converting hearts.   This is what Pope John Paul the Second called “the beauty that saves.”  Fr. Holahan is right:  Rome is an evangelization machine.

The Church has long recognized the power of the sacred arts to communicate truth and to turn souls devoutly toward Christ. Throughout Christian history, the Church has commissioned great works of art, architecture, and music to advance her mission of worship, catechesis, and evangelization, inviting the world more deeply into the mysteries of the faith.–The Foundation for Sacred Arts Mission Statement

Rather than feed the poor for a day, let’s give them the food of eternal life.

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Via Mark Shea’s Catholic and Enjoying It! blog comes this enlightening overview of ‘the immeasurable wealth’ of the Vatican. 

I’ve been re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring and the immeasurable wealth of Bilbo is mentioned as one of the fixed myths of the folk of Hobbiton. At one point, sundry residents of the town flood into Bag End, nosing about for treasure, convinced that there’s no end to it.

Something similar obtains in the world of ignorant popular anti-Catholicism in the English-speaking world concerning the limitless wealth of the Vatican (and, by the way, that world of ignorant anti-Catholicism extends to not a few Catholics in the US). The notion is that the Vatican is a sumptuous treasure house worth enough instantly end world poverty if those greedy prelate would just sell off their wealth (you know, the way the nationalization of the Russian Churches, instantly ended the state-created famines of the Stalin era).

Here’s the actual story from the intrepid John Allen:

In the public’s imagination, the Vatican is awash in priceless art, hidden Nazi gold, plundered treasures from around the world, and vast assets tucked away from prying eyes in the Vatican Bank. Reality is far more prosaic. To put it bluntly, the Vatican is not rich. It has an annual operating budget of $260 million, which would not place it on any Top 500 list of major social institutions. To draw a comparison in the non-profit sector, Harvard University has an annual operating budget of a little over $1.3 billion, which means it could run the equivalent of five Vaticans every year and still have pocket change left over. The Holy See’s budget would qualify it as a mid-sized American Catholic college. It’s bigger than Loyola-Marymount in Los Angeles (annual budget of $150 million) or Saint Louis University ($174 million), but substantially less than the University of Notre Dame ($500 million).

The total patrimony of the Holy See, meaning its property holdings (including some 30 buildings and 1,700 apartments in Rome), its investments, its stock portfolios and capital funds, and whatever it has storied up in a piggy bank for a rainy day, comes to roughly $770 million. This is substantial, but once again one has to apply a sense of scale. What the Holy See calls “patrimony” is roughly what American universities mean by an “endowment” – in other words, funds and other assets designed to support the institution if operating funds fall short. The University of Notre Dame has an endowment of $3.5 billion, meaning a total 4.5 times as great as the Vatican’s.

But what of the some 18,000 artistic treasures in the Holy See, such as the Pietà, that don’t show up on these ledgers? From the Holy See’s point of view, these artworks are part of the artistic heritage of the world, and may never be sold or borrowed against. Michelangeo’s famous Pieta statue, the Sistine Chapel, or Raphael’s famous frescoes in the Apostolic Palace are thus listed at a value of 1 Euro each. In fact, those treasures amount to a net drain on the Holy See’s budget, because millions of Euros have to be allocated every year for maintenance and restoration.

It was that notorious enemy of the poor, Dorothy Day**, who opposed stupid schemes to take art out of the Churches because she was perfectly aware of the fact that it was actually a scheme to make even more art the private property of a few rich people. At present, the “treasures of the Vatican” are the property of every beggar in Rome who wishes for something to alleviate the pain of his life and lift his thoughts to God. Under the Judas Iscariot Plan for Wealth Redistribution (Motto: Why were these things not sold and the proceeds given to the poor?”) the “treasures of the Vatican” become treasures in some guy’s villa or in some pricey museum where cultured despisers can go to sneer at the stuff people used to believe.

**Luce’s note:  I believe that Mark is being sardonic here.  If you do not know who Dorothy Day was, she was a lifelong champion for the poor.

Bilbo‘s Immeasurable Wealth.

update:  see related post  Rome: The Beauty That Saves.

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