By Francesca Merlo
Addressing participants in the Conference “Doesn’t God dwell here anymore? Decommissioning places of worship and integrated management of ecclesial cultural heritage” Pope Francis recalls first of all, Saint Paul VI who he says “affirmed that to care for documents was equivalent to caring for the worship of Christ”. The Pope says that, as a pastor, Pope Paul VI was “very sensitive to the values of culture.”
“Saint John Paul II, too” he continues, was “particularly attentive to the pastoral relevance of art and of cultural assets”, as they testify “in various ways to God’s presence in human history and the Church’s life.”
Instruments of worship
Pope Francis goes on to reiterate that he likes to give a “more markedly social expression to theological aesthetics”. He asks that we consider that cultural heritage is “part of the sacred liturgy, of evangelisation and of the exercise of charity”, explaining that these “things” are or were instruments of worship, and that these “environments and objects destined for worship” are perceived by the faithful as a permanent “kind of imprint that does not end even after they have lost that role”.
“Ecclesiastical cultural assets are witnesses to the faith of the community that has produced them over the centuries”, making them, Pope Francis says, “instruments of evangelisation”.
A sign to adapt
Pope Francis urges participants at the conference not to see the “observation that many churches, which until a few years ago were necessary” no longer are, “with anxiety”, but rather “as a sign that of the times that invites us to reflection and requires us to adapt”. He then goes on to quote the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii gaudium’, saying “giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces.”
Finally, Pope Francis states that “the conference will certainly give suggestions and indicate lines of action” recommending that every final decision, made by the bishops, be “fruit of concerned reflection conducted within the Christian community and in dialogue with the civil community”. He reminds the participants at the conference that, in the first book of Maccabees “Jerusalem had been liberated and the temple profaned by the pagans restored, the liberators preferred to set them aside ‘until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them’”.
The Lord in each Church’s history
Each Church being built, the Pope concludes, should be treated only in terms of their technical or economic profile… channeling the witness of the Church who “welcomes and values the presence of her Lord in history”.