The Attraction to Sagrada Familia

Interview With Cardinal Martínez Sistach of Barcelona

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By Miriam Díez i Bosch

BARCELONA, Spain, OCT. 28, 2010 ( Some four million people a year visit the Church of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) in Barcelona, and they come because not only of its beauty, but also because the theological richness of its symbols, says the archbishop of Barcelona.

Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach is the architect of the Pope’s Nov. 7 visit to Barcelona, where he will consecrate the Holy Family Church and its altar, which was designed by Servant of God Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). The Pontiff will also designate the church a basilica.

Some 7,000 people will pack the basilica for the ceremony — which will be concelebrated by 1,100 priests — while another 40,000 will be accommodated outside the church.

In this interview with ZENIT, Cardinal Martínez Sistach spells out the type of fruits he expects from this event, and he also explains what makes the Holy Family Church an attraction for believers and nonbelievers alike.
ZENIT: A papal visit always creates expectations and leaves a trail. You have said that you hope it will leave “many spiritual fruits.” Do you expect a vocational flowering, a new evangelizing impulse, a greater involvement by Catholics in public life?
Cardinal Martínez Sistach: I think so. In general, the Pope’s visits to countries give these fruits. The Pope is concerned about the whole universal Church and he will enrich us with an evangelizing and missionary dynamism.
Thanks to the Pope’s presence and to his message, I would like us to discover more that our life belongs to God and he has entrusted it to us to realize the vocation he has given each one of us.
I would like vocations to increase to Christian marriage, to the priesthood, to consecrated life and to the missions. The Pope reiterates the specific vocation of the Christian laity, which consists in its involvement in public life. Here and in general throughout the world we need this presence to sow the values of the Gospel in the realities of the world. We expect many spiritual and pastoral fruits from this apostolic visit.
ZENIT: What do you think will attract Benedict XVI most about this consecration of the Holy Family Church?
Cardinal Martínez Sistach: Benedict XVI has understood — in addition to appreciating the beauty of the Church of the Holy Family — the theological conception of the church or temple that Antoni Gaudí had and which harmonizes with the Holy Father’s.
This brilliant architect was inspired by Chapter 47 of the prophet Ezekiel and Chapter 22 of the Book of Revelation, projecting the Church of the Holy Family as the heavenly Jerusalem, the new and holy city come down from heaven.
The Pope has been attracted by the symbolic, biblical, liturgical and catechetical richness that Gaudí gave his project. And also the exemplary Christian life of this “architect of God” — as he regarded himself — whose cause of canonization is under way.
ZENIT: Is Catalonia doing its utmost in the preparations, or do you still hope for greater involvement?
Cardinal Martínez Sistach: Catalonia is going all out in the preparations. Gaudí’s church is very rooted in the hearts of the people of Barcelona, but also of the Catalans.
All the Catalan dioceses will come for the celebration on Nov. 7, as they will also come from the rest of Spain. We have published more than 100,000 copies of seven catechesis of preparation for Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit, three on the ecclesial service of Peter and his Successors, two on Antoni Gaudí, and two on the symbols of the church and the meaning of its dedication to God.
ZENIT: Gaudí attracts masses of tourists. Can he also bring about vocations?
Cardinal Martínez Sistach: Gaudí attracts the masses. Every year some three million people visit the inside of the church, and four million the outside.
Why do they come? They are attracted by the harmony, beauty and symbols. I think the church evangelizes. Gaudí wanted all his buildings to lead people to God. I think he has more than achieved this with the Church of the Holy Family. There have been conversions, and we know some of them.
The building of the church increasingly converted the architect himself, until he gave himself completely to this work, refusing proposals for new buildings offered to him in Paris and New York.
Another example is that of Japanese sculptor Etsuro Soto who, working on the church, received the gift of faith for himself and his wife. We know other examples of conversion, but no doubt they happened because a visit to the church helps to reflect on creation and salvation as works of God.
As Benedict XVI said to artists gathered in November of last year in the Sistine Chapel, beauty is a path to the transcendent, to the ultimate mystery, to God. The Pope wished to express and renew the Church’s friendship with the world of art, a consolidated friendship given that Christianity has always understood the value of the arts and has used its manifold languages to communicate her unchanging message of salvation.
ZENIT: What is the uniqueness of the Holy Family Church?
Cardinal Martínez Sistach: Its peculiarity is its originality. Being planned in the year 1883, this church is different, new, does not repeat an old style. But the principal peculiarity is the symbolic richness that Gaudí projected, fruit of knowledge and esteem for the liturgy, as on his night table he had the book “L’Annee Liturgique” of Dom Prosper Gueranger, abbot of Solesmes. All the liturgical, biblical and catechetical contents have been thought out.
This church, which the Holy Father will declare a basilica on Nov., has the peculiarity of being visited every year by millions of people from all the continents — believers and nonbelievers. It is like a “courtyard of the Gentiles" for very many people who are still not in the Church, but for whom the symbols and beauty of this magnificent church gives them something to think about.
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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