Vatican Museums visitors happy priests are present

Fr Isaac Vondoame stands inside the Vatican Museums CNA US Catholic News 9 4 12 Fr. Isaac Vondoame stands inside the Vatican Museums during an interview with CNA.

A month-long pilot project to make priests available within the Vatican Museums to offer spiritual counseling to visitors is being hailed a success.

"There are so many themes that are spoken of. We might speak of art and faith or of economics and faith. Some people come to share their experiences or difficulties in their personal, professional or family lives," said Father Isaac Vondoame, one of two priests who were available in the museums throughout August.

"The most special experience I've had is that a woman came to up to me to confess after many, many years. After her confession, she began crying. She found Jesus Christ in one way or another, also here, in this place," Fr. Vondoame told CNA.

Together with Father Chidi Onwuka, the two Rome-based priests have been positioned at strategic positions within the Vatican Museums. Fr. Vondoame, who is originally from Togo, is a missionary with The Sons of Divine Providence, while Fr. Onwuka is a native of Nigeria and is a Missionary of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

They estimated that "dozens" of people per day have stopped to chat with them.

"When they see a priest at  their disposal they are very happy," Fr. Onwuka said.

The visitors usually ask questions about "the meaning of some of the artworks," but every once in a while someone uses the opportunity "to share some other things that particularly regard their spiritual lives," he explained.

The Vatican Museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century. They are now home to some of the most renowned classical sculptures and Renaissance art in the world.

Among the most popular exhibits for visitors are the four "Raphael Rooms," painted by the Italian Renaissance artist and his workshop, and the Sistine Chapel created by Michelangelo.

"When people come here, most of the people are amazed by the beauty, the richness, how the earliest Christians were able to articulate their faith in art," Fr. Onwuka said, adding that he has also grown in his knowledge of "the relationship between art and faith."

In 2011 the Vatican Museums broke its own attendance records by bringing in just over 5 million visitors. That makes them one of the most visited museums in Europe, on a par with the British Museum in London, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Prado in Madrid.

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