VATICAN CITY — Beauty has the power to heal hearts and souls, Pope Francis said this week, as he called on artists to “make beauty shine, especially where drabness dominates daily life.”
In a message to the 21st joint session of Pontifical Academies, held in Rome on Tuesday, the pope reflected on the meeting’s theme: “Sparks of beauty: giving a human face to our cities.” The message was read on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
In his message, Pope Francis suggested 7 ways that beauty can spark transformation in our personal lives and in our communities.
1. True beauty makes our lives real and radiant
Recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s address to artists in the Sistine Chapel on November 21, 2009, Pope Francis quoted his predecessor, saying:
“Unfortunately, the present time is marked, not only by negative elements in the social and economic sphere, but also by a weakening of hope, by a certain lack of confidence in human relationships, which gives rise to increasing signs of resignation, aggression and despair. […] What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation – if not beauty?” (Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to artists).
In the same address, Pope Benedict therefore invited artists to commit themselves to making “places of social coexistence” increasingly human: “Dear friends, as artists you know well that the experience of beauty, beauty that is authentic, not merely transient or artificial, is by no means a supplementary or secondary factor in our search for meaning and happiness; the experience of beauty does not remove us from reality; on the contrary, it leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it from darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful” (Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to artists).
2. Finding beauty on the peripheries
Pope Francis said the theme also “reminds us of rebirth and redevelopment projects on the peripheries of metropolitan areas, of big cities, which have been designed by highly qualified architects who propose ‘sparks of beauty,’ i.e. small urban, architectural and artistic initiatives that create, even in the most degraded and ugly areas, a sense of beauty, dignity, and decorum more human than urban.” In this way, the pope said, “our conviction grows that traces of beauty and true humanity are also found on the peripheries.”
3. Contemplating beauty as a remedy for treating people and things as objects
“An Italian author, Italo Calvino, has said that ‘cities, like dreams, are built by desires and fears’ (Invisible cities, Turin 1972, p.20). Perhaps many cities today, with their distressing suburbs, have left much more space for fear than people’s most beautiful desires and dreams, especially those of young people,” the pope added. “In the Encyclical, Laudato si’, I highlighted precisely ‘the relationship between a good aesthetic education and the maintenance of a healthy environment,’ stating that ‘by learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple’ (n. 215).”
4. Beautiful churches become “oases of peace”
“That is why, for example, it is necessary that sacred buildings, beginning with new parish churches, especially those located on the peripheries or in degraded areas, are set forth, albeit in their simplicity, as oases of beauty, of peace, of welcoming, truly fostering an encounter with God and communion with one’s brothers and sisters, thus becoming a point of reference for the growth of inhabitants, and for a harmonious and strong development of the community,” Pope Francis said.
5. Beauty protects the most vulnerable
He added: “Caring for persons, beginning with the smallest and most vulnerable, and their day-to-day bonds, necessarily means caring also for the environment in which they live. Small gestures, simple actions, little sparks of beauty and charity can heal and ‘mend’ human fabric, as well as urban and environmental ones — which are often torn and divided — by presenting a concrete alternative to indifference and cynicism.”
6. Beauty has the power to heal hearts and souls
The pope continued: “Thus, there emerges the important and necessary task of artists, particularly of those who are believers and allow themselves to be enlightened by the beauty of the Gospel of Christ: to create works of art that bring — through the language of beauty — a sign, a spark of hope and trust precisely where people seem to give in to indifference and ugliness.
“Architects and painters, sculptors and musicians, filmmakers and writers, photographers and poets, artists of every discipline, are called to make beauty shine especially, where darkness or drabness dominate everyday life. They are custodians of beauty, heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity, as my predecessors have repeatedly stated. I invite you, therefore, to care for beauty, and beauty will in turn heal many wounds that mark the hearts and souls of men and women today.”
7. “God’s true spark of beauty”
Before offering his apostolic blessing, the pope entrusted all those present to the Virgin Mary, “the Tota pulchra [All beautiful one]. Calling her “God’s true spark of beauty,” he prayed “that she might illumine our daily journey by her maternal protection.”