Artists from many countries, who represented the gamut of artistic categories including architecture, sculpture, music, dance and film, met with the Holy Father this morning in the Sistine Chapel just off St. Peter's square. Around 250 artists, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, responded to the Holy See's invitation to all professionals in the arts to take part in the event.
The Pope read a moving letter to the group in which he invited the artists to "friendship, dialogue, and cooperation" with the church. Profusely citing a wide variety of artists' interpretations of beauty throughout history and also quoting the particularly art-conscious Popes Paul VI and John Paul II numerous times, Pope Benedict illustrated a simple message very clearly: with their vision and skill, artists have a unique ability to use their vocations to promote beauty in the world, which is a gift from God.
The Pontiff explained this phenomenon, "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."
He asked them to "be grateful, then, for the gifts you have received and be fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty!"
The Holy Father expounded on the need for beauty in the world as a source of inspiration, happiness and unity.
"Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration," he said.
Encouraging those who filled the Sistine Chapel to seek out opportunities to share this beauty with others, he advised them not to be afraid "to approach the first and last source of beauty, 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 that they must not view this as a weakness, explaining that faith “takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them."
The address to the artists of the world echoed a similar call Pope Paul VI made to the artistic community in 1964 to assume "individual responsibility, courageously and passionately, for a newer and deeper journey in mutual acquaintance and dialogue in order to arrive at an authentic ‘renaissance’ of art in the context of a new humanism."
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II renewed this appeal in his popular Letter to Artists.
Concluding his visit, Pope Benedict left the artists with a final message to guide them in their work: "My wish for all of you, dear artists, is that you may carry this vision in your eyes, in your hands, and in your heart, that it may bring you joy and continue to inspire your fine works."
Journalists were not permitted inside the Sistine Chapel for the event, due to its small size.
Following the audience, CNA spoke with Alvaro Siviero, a professional pianist from Brazil, about how the audience received Pope Benedict's comments.
"In the moments following the address," he said, "there was a tremendous silence for about 20 seconds, and then there was an explosion of applause. This lasted for two minutes. It was a great moment for the church and the art community."
Today Pope Benedict XVI extended a warm personal welcome to artists from all over the world who met with him in a private audience hosted at the Sistine Chapel. In a moving address he challenged the artists, as "custodians of beauty," to be "heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity."