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from issue no. 11 - 2010

It was a historic visit

by Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach

Benedict XVI with Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI with Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona [© Osservatore Romano]

The dedication of the church of the Sagrada Família was a historic event. Because of the presence of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who presided over the celebration, and because of the unique, majestic work, so beautiful and full of biblical, theological, liturgical and catechetical symbolism that is the Basilica, designed and initiated by the brilliant architect and servant of God Antoni Gaudí.
I would like to renew my thanks to the Pope for the kindness he has shown to our local Church and other dioceses in the country in accepting the invitation that I made to come to Barcelona for an occasion that I believe really merited the presence of the Supreme Pontiff: the dedication to God of what many consider not only “the Cathedral of Europe” but also “the Cathedral of the world” or “the Cathedral of the twenty-first century”.
We do not now know what events the future holds for us, but we have high hopes and a desire to act so that 7 November 2010 may be a moment that indicates future directions for us and many others. Benedict XVI confirmed the universal dimension of the Basilica of the Sagrada Família – annually visited by three million people from the five continents of the world – which will now be consolidated by the celebration presided by the Holy Father. It was a historic visit which we hope and desire will have a “before” and “after”.

Interior, spiritual and pastoral fruits
Since this is already much, I hope it is only the outward sign of the many spiritual and pastoral fruits of the visit. In seeing the warm and loving participation of the large numbers of people who welcomed the Holy Father and the majesty and beauty of the Basilica, I think we all gained a greater awareness of the very important mission that the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter has in the service of all the diocesan Churches, and thus also that of Barcelona and other places of pilgrimage in Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
The publication and distribution of over one hundred thousand pamphlets published for the due preparation of this apostolic visit have helped in this. Of the catechesis contained therein, three were dedicated to the ministry of Peter and his successors, two to the figure of Gaudí, and two to the symbolism of the church.
The Pope, visible source and foundation of the unity of the Church that stretches from East to West, has enriched us with his presence and his word in the dimension of the Catholicity that all Christians should live. Immediately after this visit there were already signs of a reawakening of vocations to the priesthood and I do not doubt that such will be the case for the consecrated life and missions also. We have all been helped to live more intensely the vocation to evangelize, proper to every baptized person.
Today it is urgent to evangelize, to present the contents of the Good News of the Lord and encourage a personal encounter of men and women, young and old, with the person of Jesus. Because, as Benedict XVI told us in his encyclical Deus caritas est, we are Christians through the encounter with a person, Jesus Christ, Who gives life a new horizon.

Recognition of the value of our history and our culture
John Paul II spoke of the purpose of the apostolic journeys, saying that they are “visits made to individual local churches, and serve to demonstrate the place they have... in constituting the universality of the Church... Every journey of the Pope is an authentic pilgrimage to the living sanctuary of the People of God” (Address to the Curia, 28 June 1980). Benedict XVI visited this living sanctuary that is the Church in Barcelona, an assembly of people that by the profession of the faith make visible the presence of Christ among men (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 26).
The Pope has shown us that he loves our local Church of Barcelona and manifested the value he attributes to our history and our culture, as was evident, for example, in the use he made during the visit of the Catalan language, along with Castilian and Latin.
Benedict XVI showed us his steadfast piety. Even his voice seemed eclipsed behind his “humble and joyous faith”. It was especially for this reason that the Pope came to Barcelona: to teach us that we must live in the presence of God. He exhorted us to believe that, grounded in the faith, we can “show the world the face of God, Who is love and is the only one Who can respond to the yearning for fullness of man”. He told us that “this is the great task, to show everyone that God is God of peace and not of violence, of freedom and not of constraint, of harmony and not of discord. God is the true measure of man”.
Because of this, the Pope had no doubts about declaring, in Santiago and Barcelona, “the glory of man”, along the line of the teaching of St Irenaeus of Lyons who left us, as early as the second century of the Christian era, that expression rich in theological content: “Gloria Dei homo vivens”, “the glory of God is living man”, or “the glory of God is the life of man”.

Benedict XVI giving communion to a girl [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI giving communion to a girl [© Osservatore Romano]

Communion with God, “friend of life”
The Pope also said that God is “friend of life”. God is a friend of mankind and invites us to be his friends. “If we let Christ enter our heart, we will experience the joy of sharing His own life”.
I ask God that the Pope’s words and deeds may find an echo in many generous young people and encourage them to follow Christ and to cooperate with him in the work of the Church in today’s world. Young people seek to give meaning to life, seek an authentic message and find in the Pope a reference point in which they find contents that fill them with meaning and lead them to the source, which is Jesus Christ.
I also hope that as a result of the Pope’s visit, many may discover that Antoni Gaudí, the creator of this great temple unique in the world, besides being a brilliant architect, was also an exemplary and consistent Christian. His person is deeply Franciscan in spirituality. He lived his last years at the feet of his life’s work: the temple of the Sagrada Família. Unmarried and poor, like one of those unknown “master masons” to whom we owe our cathedrals.
Gaudí created a “Canticle of the Creatures” in the manner of Saint Francis of Assisi. His work renews the Gothic, giving it greater agility, greater openness to nature, a greater presence of “benign things”, God’s creatures – from vegetables to fruits to the most insignificant animals for the inattentive observer – and above all giving it greater light, which is the symbol of divinity.

The big three “books” of Gaudí
It was natural to expect from the words of the theologian Pope – and Gaudí’s admirers were hoping for – some felicitous statement about the “wonderful teacher”. A real anthology of praise to Gaudí may be gathered from the words of the Pope in the beautiful homily he gave at the Basilica of the Sagrada Família. Personally, I found masterful the expression of Benedict XVI we are already quoting in Barcelona, that “of the three books by which Gaudí was inspired”: nature, the Bible and the liturgy.
However, it is better to quote this paragraph verbatim: “What do we do when we dedicate this church? In the heart of the world, placed before God and mankind, with a humble and joyful act of faith, we raise up this massive material structure, fruit of nature and an immense achievement of human intelligence which gave birth to this work of art. It stands as a visible sign of the invisible God, to whose glory these spires rise like arrows pointing towards absolute light and to the One who is Light, Height and Beauty itself. In this place, Gaudí desired to unify that inspiration which came to him from the three books which nourished him as a man, as a believer and as an architect: the book of nature, the book of Sacred Scripture and the book of the liturgy. In this way he brought together the reality of the world and the history of salvation, as recounted in the Bible and made present in the liturgy”.
One of the scholars of the symbology of the temple has written that the whole Basilica is a great hymn of praise to Jesus Christ. Gaudí contemplated nature as a work created by God and as such it was for the architect a teacher; at the same time, with his work as an artist and architect, he worked very intimately with the Creator. He was also a believer who gradually as he built the Sagrada Família and renounced many commissions for new constructions, converted more and more into his own Christian life, nourished with the daily reading of Sacred Scripture, the book par excellence of his faith and his artistic inspiration. Gaudí kept a book by Dom Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes, on his bedside table, L’Année Liturgique, which he read constantly, as is easily seen in looking at the Basilica of the Sagrada Família, inspired by chapter 47 of the prophet Ezekiel and chapters 21-22 of the Book of Revelation, as well as by the beauty of the liturgy.

The most touching gesture of the apostolic visit
The celebration of the dedication of the Basilica evidenced all the wealth of the ecclesial and liturgical rite and was followed with great participation and spiritual devotion both by those who were inside the Basilica and by the many who were outside and watched the ceremony on the many giant maxi-screens installed in the streets adjacent to the church. So much so that a careful observer of the ritual, Father Federico Lombardi, spokesperson and director of the Holy See Press Office, had no hesitation in stating: “This morning’s liturgy is the most solemn expression I’ve seen in the five years of this pontificate”.
Nevertheless, I think the most touching gesture of the apostolic visit was that in the afternoon, the visit to the “Obra benèfico-social del Nen Déu” (“Social Benefit Works of the God Child”), a diocesan charity founded in 1892 and always devoted to children in need and ill, but which in recent years has specialized in the education and care of people of all ages with disabilities.
It was a moving gesture because of the closeness of the Holy Father to the families of children with disabilities, particularly with Down’s syndrome. I saw in the faces of the fathers and mothers of these children expressions of great affection and gratitude to the Pope for having made this gesture towards their sons and daughters. If in the Sagrada Família we were impressed by the solidity and steadfast piety of the Pope, in the “Obra del Nen Déu” we were impressed by his paternal tenderness.
The Holy Father’s visit brought back to mind a fact and a desire in relation to Gaudí. The fact is that while the architect was still alive, the Papal Nuncio in Spain, whose name was Francesco Ragonesi, visited the building site of the Sagrada Família, then only at the beginning. Full of enthusiasm for what the architect told him of his great project, the nuncio said, “You are the Dante of architecture!” A eulogy as simple as it is beautiful.
The desire is that one day not far off, should it be the decision of the Church, the unique context of the new Basilica may welcome the solemn beatification of the architect, whose tomb is housed in the crypt of the church. The beauty and originality of a temple unique in the world for its style, its monumentality and its rich biblical, theological, liturgical and catechetical symbolism, would be the appropriate framework for the first architect to rise to the honors of the altars. Let us admire Gaudí and his art, something that is an act of justice, but let us not forget to trust in him so that this desire may, one day, become a reality.

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