Benefactors of the Vatican Museums who have recently gathered in Rome stressed that art is pivotal in the task of bringing God to secular society.

"A message given by the artist which many times is a very strong religious, theological message can then penetrate into the soul," Fr. Mark Haydu told CNA in an Oct. 17 interview.

Fr. Haydu is the international director of the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums – a worldwide community dedicated to the restoration and conservation of artwork within the Vatican Museums through the financial adoption of various projects.

The priest reflected that art and beauty play "an essential role" in evangelization today, because "we live in a very image driven culture, as we know, and a throw away culture, so a lot of what is beautiful lasts over time."

"If we do not preserve and protect it we can lose it."

He stressed that "a painting is almost like a face, if it is sad and depressed and non-communicative, it loses its power to relate to the viewer," so restoration in important in order to "bring back the smile that can then invite a communication that opens the heart and then the message that work of art has."

"Our hope and my job as a priest is to infuse into the spirit of the family of the patrons, this evangelistic attitude that we want to preserve beauty, not just for its cultural value, but also because Jesus Christ spoke through symbols and through art."

The Patrons of the Arts organization officially began in 1983 when an exhibit from the Vatican Museums was sent to the United States. The concern for the preservation of the museum's treasures amongst those who saw the works generated the desire to found an organization dedicated to the special task of restoration.

The conference, composed of about three hundred and fifty benefactors, "is a chance for them to see the museums, meet the curators to talk to the restorers and see the work that has been done in the museums," said Fr. Haydu, "because many people, five million, go through the museums every year."

"Very few understand all the work that goes on behind to preserve this vast collection," urged Fr. Haydu, "more than for the church, it is for humanity. It is the gift that the church offers to the world."

Patrons Anthony and Suzanne Rae traveled from Michigan to attend the conference, spoke with CNA/EWTN News on Oct. 17, saying that they have been members of the organization since it began.

Suzanne emphasized that taking part in the patrons' work is "something that we have a great passion for." Because she had studied fine art in university and her husband had studied architecture, "being a part of the restorations and the preservation of the artwork is just a responsibility that we love and feel."

"We come here frequently and particularly to Rome and we never fail to be amazed at the research and the advancement that the patrons are doing," Anthony said, "through the work that we do, that the restorers do through the patrons' office, our contribution to the restoration."

Suzanne also expressed her hope as a patron that the art in the museums would serve to evangelize, noting that there are several non-Catholics involved in their Patrons of the Arts chapter in the U.S.

"I feel that it's opening the doors to bringing us all closer together because that's so necessary in these times for us to be united," she urged, "the Church is a gift to the world in many ways."

Anthony added that "the artwork in the world is ecumenical. It's not something that we alone as Catholics own."

"Our friends whether they're Catholic, Jewish, whatever have a deep appreciation for what the Catholic Church has done for the preservation of the artwork and its legacy that will hopefully continue on for many many years."

The Vatican Museums, founded by Pope Julius II, are an immense collection of different pieces of art located within Vatican City which have come into the Catholic Church's possession throughout the centuries.

Among the vast works within the museums are many of the most renowned classical sculptures and most significant masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.