Smearing an Anniversary; Orphans in Rubble

Benedict XVI Already Practiced at Resisting the Wolves

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By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, APRIL 22, 2010 ( This April is a month of anniversaries. April 21 recalls the birthday of Rome with pageants and free entrances to museums, but this year the most celebrated reoccurrence is that of the fifth year since the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papal throne as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005.

While most of the world chose to remember the Pope in prayer, the New York Times, among many other secular news outlets, greeted this half decade-mark by listing the controversies (all media generated) of his pontificate — some stretching their indictment of this papacy to besmirch even the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

As prescient as he is wise, Pope Benedict predicted all this five years ago, during his inaugural homily when he asked the world to «Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another» (April 24, 2005).

The wolves were not long in coming. Their first sally arrived the day after his election when the U.K. Guardian paid homage to the new sovereign head of the Roman Catholic Church with the headline «From Hitler Youth to the Vatican.» Among the many who leapt to clarify the Pope’s wartime record was the New York Times, penning a careful and balanced piece in defense of the Pope.

A year later, the tides (or the Times) had turned. In June 2006, Pope Benedict was criticized during his visit to Auschwitz for not apologizing on behalf of the Germans and Catholics for the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. The New York Times led the charge this time critiquing «While he spoke eloquently about ‘forgiveness and reconciliation,’ he did not beg pardon for the sins of Germans or of the Roman Catholic Church during World War II.»

From that day forth Pope Benedict could do no right with the secular media.

Three months later, after Pope Benedict’s address at Regensburg, where he quoted a 14th century text regarding faith and reason among Muslims and Christians, The New York Times pronounced its sentence in the editorial, «The Pope’s Words.» Their verdict? «He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology.»

In the intervening years, Pope Benedict has come under fire for condemning the use of condoms to fight AIDS in Africa, for not looking sad enough at Yad Vashem, and for refusing to deny the heroic virtues of Pope Pius XII. The secular media, presenting itself as the voice of moral high ground, has demanded apology after apology from the head of the Catholic Church.

In 2010, the U.K. Guardian and the New York Times have joined forces; while one wrongly links the Pope’s name with sex abuse on the front pages, the other calls for his arrest. As more and more apologies are demanded by the secular media, it becomes apparent that the only acceptable apology is for the Church’s moral teachings and its witness to Jesus Christ — in short its very existence.

As the wolves howl in this bleak forest of poisonous ink, it seems like a time to be afraid.

But indeed on this fifth anniversary, Pope Benedict has truly earned the name given him by the Wall Street Journal after his Regensburg address, «Benedict the Brave.» In a world increasingly marked by religious intolerance, he has rallied his flock to the words «God is Love.» The first Pope to meet with victims of clerical sex abuse, he has confronted the ugliest stain on the Church by witnessing the damage done to its victims firsthand.

He has forayed into concentration camps, mosques and synagogues, knowing that only a few will respond to his call for healing and dialogue. He has gone to the heart of secular Europe to bring the unpopular message of the Gospel. If John Paul II exhorted us to «be not afraid,» Pope Benedict has lit the path laid by his predecessor for the rest of us.

The Italian bishops gave the Pope a special gift this year, a day of prayer in all the parishes of Italy. Along with many others the world over, we prayed for the long reign and continued courage of our Holy Father.

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Treasures in Ruins

Birthdays and papal elections are occasions for rejoicing, but one anniversary this month recalls a tragic occurrence. A year after the massive earthquake that destroyed much of Aquila on April 6, 2009, many homes remain unrepaired, many people are still living far away. This week, the Vatican Museums brought Aquila back into the spotlight with an exhibition of the liturgical objects salvaged from the wreckage in dire need of restoration.
The Vatican Museums are hosting the exhibition, «Memory and Hope: A Treasure to be Saved,» under the patronage of both Benedict XVI’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. This joint collaboration brought almost 200 liturgical objects collected from the rubble of Aquila to the Vatican Museums, where visitors can admire not only their history and beauty, but also offer funding to restore and repair the many damaged works.
In presenting this initiative, Professor Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, explained why the museums took an interest in these works, noting that «what makes this interesting is the context, the connective tissue that is the artistic patrimony of a nation or a people.»
Paolucci explained that the museums chose to exhibit «objects that are frequently forgotten after a great catastrophe. One restores monuments, finding sponsors, attention and money to recoup famous paintings or statues, but the so-called minor arts — that which every church keeps in the sacristy; the textiles, inlaid and gilded wood, the silver, the sacred vases — when damaged by an earthquake, they are forgotten. Therefore it is a piece of memory that dies.”
 So the loving attention of the Vatican collection has focused on the less famous objects that are, nonetheless, works of art crafted to lead the faithful through the streets in procession, honor beloved saints and celebrate the sacrifice of Christ during the Mass.
This is not to say that many of the works are not striking for their preciousness and their beauty. The processional cross of Monticchio, from 1436 by Nicola da Guardiagrele, dazzles visitors with its exquisite workmanship and precious materials. This artist, a silversmith superstar, produced many works still gracing the altars of churches like Santa Maria Maggiore today.
Of the many reliquaries, candelabra and other objects, some of the most interesting pieces were excavated from the Cathedral of Aquila and the Abbey of Collemaggio where Pope Celestine V was buried. Several of the works still bear their “wounds»: illuminated books ripped from their spines, deep cracks in bronze reliquaries. A large scale photograph of the ruins of the cathedral greets visitors, where some of the works in the exhibit peek out from under the rubble, a solemn reminder of how close these treasures came to being lost.
A large part of the exhibition is dedicated to the Convent of San Giuliano, which in 1415 became the first home in St. Bernardino’s observant branch of the Friars Minor. The great saint and celebrated preacher was buried in Aquila in the basilica named for him. A great many relics of this important Renaissance figure were kept in Aquila, and visitors can see his tunic and other objects saved from the wreckage.  
Forty objects have already been restored, including the «Madonna and Child» by Saturnino Gatti, damaged during the exhibition for the G8 in Aquila and restored at the expense of the Italian state. There are 140 works still waiting to be “adopted.» These “orphans” of the earthquake will be on display until May 31.
As Rome well knows after her many sacks and disasters, part of rebuilding a devastated city requires renewing the faith of its citizens through devotion to its special saints, lovingly preserved in precious reliquaries — the public witness of
processions where the people follow their luminous cross through the winding roads and receive the sacraments offered for their salvation.

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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus and University of St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program. She can be reached at

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