Arts / Entertainment

Vatican Stamps–Those Tiny Evangelizers

Each month the Vatican's Philatelist Office issues remarkable stamps.

WEB Vatican Stamp Vince DiNoto

Vince DiNoto

Every month the UFN, the Ufficio Filatelico e Numismatico Governatorato (Vatican Philatelic Office) issues stamps, postcards, or other materials. The range of topics depicted on the stamps is surprising: classic artwork of Church mysteries, chronicles of world and Church events, views into art and music, and even something whimsical, like a parrot waiting to munch on a grasshopper (1989).  

Some of my fairly recent favorites, relevant to what’s been in the news lately: the Cathedral of St. Sophia, Kiev (1988); a gigantic stamp celebrating the 40th anniversary of Caritas Internationalis, a worldwide charity (1990); the 100th anniversary of the encyclical Rerum Novarum on the rights of workers (1991); the Discovery and Evangelization of America—a continuing task? (1992); and the Evangelization of China (1994)—another ongoing venture. And so many more.

These magnificent little windows also serve the purpose of evangelization. They travel to “the ends of the earth,” as far as any missionaries have ever gone. They infiltrate into groups of people hostile to the Church. Since they are pictorial and beautiful, they can often convey a truth of salvation without words, and contain universal messages and truths common to the entire world.

Since 1929, these stamps have been published and collected by people around the world. At least 1,400 of them have been printed. It would be great if every one of these stamps circulated through the mail systems of every country. Imagine how many  people would see each. But perhaps dedicated collectors do an even better job of spreading the Word.

Each month  a series of Vatican stamps similarly inspires education, reflection and inspiration.

In August 2014, six stamps were released. While each may be appreciated for its intrinsic value and surface meaning, the Vatican Philatelic Office is renowned for communicating through metaphors, hints, commendations and criticisms, and even subliminal suggestions. Here are some reflections on the six most recent Vatican stamps, as described in a recent brochure by the Vatican Philatelic Office.

First, the “25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” Although Americans might expect a photo of an American president telling a Russian leader to “tear down this wall,” the artist took a different approach. The stamp depicts a photo of those historic days, taken by photographer Michael-Reiner Ernst, of an older man chipping away with a small chisel at a small area of the wall. Graffiti in German is scrawled across it. Beginning in 1990, ordinary Berliners began removing 45,000 pieces of the wall. Perhaps the stamp calls to mind the cumulative power of individuals who are committed to truth and freedom, and the role of strength and sacrifice in bolstering our convictions.

Second, the “150th Anniversary of the Birth of Richard Georg Strauss”  pays tribute to the gifted musician who was also a social reformer, perhaps even in the tradition of Pope Leo. The Vatican brochure states:

"The German composer is known not only as a great artist, but also for the recognition he received for his work through what today is called copyright, where the composer receives part of the profits for every performance of his music. This helped to show that even a musician can make a living from his work, something which was not a given in the past.”

The third stamp commemorates the “350th Anniversary of the Synod of Ayutthaya” in 1658 when the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith chose three French missionaries to guide evangelization efforts in Asia. The priests often had to go in disguise to avoid persecution. For those interested in international collegiality, this particular stamp is a joint issue with the postal administration of Thailand. Evangelization has a long history, and it continues.