The 20th Public Session of the Pontifical Academies was held Tuesday on the theme: “Ad Limina Petri. Monumental Traces of Pilgrimage in the First Centuries of Christianity.”
The works were introduced by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and by the Council for Coordination between the Pontifical Academies.
In the course of the Session, before awarding the Prize of the Pontifical Academies and the Medal of the Pontificate to this year’s winners, the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, read the Message sent by the Holy Father Francis.
Here is a translation of the text of the Message.
* * *
To the Venerable Brother,
The Lord Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi,
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
and of the Council for Coordination between the Pontifical Academies
With earnest gratitude I give my cordial welcome to you, Lord Cardinal, and to the distinguished Members of the Pontifical Academies, on the occasion of the 20th Public Session. This manifestation reaches a first significant goal, for which I congratulate you and the Presidents of the Academies, who have shared the project of institutional renewal desired by my Predecessor, Saint John Paul II, and started in 1995, in fact, with the creation of the Council for Coordination between the seven Pontifical Academies that are part of it.
Outstanding certainly among the initiatives geared to appreciating this common path is the Prize destined annually to young scholars, artists and institutions that contributed in an important way, through their studies and works, to the various disciplinary ambits in which the Academies themselves work, to promote Christian humanism and the development of the religious sciences.
The Annual Session, an event that has now become traditional, is the propitious occasion be it to bring together all the academics and to proclaim the winner or winners of the Prize of the Pontifical Academies, be it for a common thematic reflection. Therefore, for all of you present at that ceremony, Cardinals, Bishops, Ambassadors, academics and friends, I express the hope that such Sessions always constitute moments of cultural and interior enrichment, of incitement to an ever more profund personal and communal commitment, capable of arousing in the Church the desire for a renewed humanism, up to the challenges of our time.
Therefore, I rejoice with you, particularly with the Presidents of the two Pontifical Academies that organized the Session this year — the Roman of Archaeology and the Cultorum Martyrum –, for the topic chosen, when we are now a few weeks from the opening of the Jubilee of Mercy.
“Ad Limina Petri. Monumental Traces of Pilgrimage in the First Centuries of Christianity,” is the thought-provoking title of your meeting, which prepares us for the start of the Holy Year, recalling opportunely attention to pilgrimage as a constitutive element of the Jubilee. In the Bull of Proclamation Misericordiae Vultus, I stressed its importance, affirming that “The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us” (n. 14).
Hence, your reflection will contribute to deepen the meaning of the Christian pilgrimage, as evidenced by the ancient testimonies, by the traces left by pilgrims of Christian antiquity in the Roman shrines, to begin with, in fact, those documented at the tomb of Peter or the Memoria Apostolorum. From the first centuries of the Christian era the itineraries of pilgrims, be they ecclesiastical be they lay, are well documented by numerous sources, among which are the graffiti left in places visited, near the tombs of Martyrs. From these attestations, the genuine and generous faith emerges of one who starts to travel, with great courage and also with many sacrifices, to find, rather to touch with the hand, witnesses of the faith and their memory, so as to draw from them enthusiasm and interior strength to live one’s faith ever more profoundly and coherently.
A pilgrimage – as those who have followed on foot a stretch of the ancient itineraries, opportunely rediscovered and proposed again to our days – is also an experience of mercy, of sharing and of solidarity with one who travels the same road, as well as of hospitality and generosity on the part of the one who hosts and assists pilgrims. Outstanding among the works of corporal mercy, which I wished to propose again as one of the characteristic signs of the Holy Year, is in fact the reception of strangers. May a glance at Christian antiquity and at the traces left by pilgrims reminds us of the commitment to hospitality and sharing, which in the experience of pilgrimage becomes a conscious itinerary of conversion and joyful daily practices.
I earnestly hope that all those that come to Rome on the occasion of the Holy Year or live the experience of pilgrimage to the many goals proposed by the local Churches, will be able to feel, as the disciples of Emmaus, the Lord beside them as travel companion. Thus may they experience the joy of the encounter with Him, as well as with brothers and sisters in which He continues to be present and to interpellate: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me … Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 35.40).
Wishing now, to encourage and support all those committed to offer valid contributions to the historico-archaeological research and related to the cult of Martyrs, object of this edition of the Prize, I am happy to assign the Prize of the Pontifical Academies, ex aequo, to the Portuguese Association Campo Arqueologico di Mertola, referent Professor Virgilio Lopes, for the archaeological campaigns carried out in the last years and for the extraordinary results obtained; and to Dr. Matteo Braconi for his excellent doctoral thesis on “The Mosaic of the Apse of the Basilica of Saint Pudenziana at Rome. History, Restorations, Interpretations,” discussed at the University of Studies Roma Tre. As a sign of encouragement for historical research in the religious realm, I then assign the Medal of the Pontificate to Dr. Almudena Alba Lopez, for the publication Political Theology and Anti-Arian controversy of the University of Salamanca.
Finally, wishing the academics and all those present a fruitful commitment in their respective fields of research, I entrust each and all of you to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, Mater Misericordiae, that she may assist us always in our daily pilgrimage. I impart to you from my heart the Apostolic Blessing and I ask you to pray for me.
From the Vatican, November 10, 2015
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]