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For the first time, the Ratzinger Prize is awarded to a non-theologian: the Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt

Osservatore Romano via AFP

Beauty, the pontiff said, is a “privileged way to open ourselves to transcendence and encounter with God.”

Pope Francis received nearly 200 people in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican on November 18, 2017, on the occasion of the awarding of the 2017 Ratzinger Prize 2017 by the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation. In the ceremony, the Supreme Pontiff emphasized the “urgency” of theological research and praised his role for Christian unity.

Three laureates were honored with the 2017 Ratzinger Prize: Catholic theologian and priest Karl-Heinz Menke, Lutheran theologian Theodor Dieter and Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt. They were accompanied by their families and loved ones as they received this prize from the hands of the pope.

Theological research, that is to say, the dialogue between faith and reason, is an “urgent and vital” necessity, Pope Francis said. Indeed, without this dialogue, faith cannot “incarnate in time,” he emphasized.

By also granting awards to believers from other Christian denominations, the Ratzinger Prize shows that “the truth of Christ is not for the soloists, but it is rather symphonic.” And it is by seeking and studying together that Christians “are forcefully drawn to full communion.” Thus, said the pope, “truth becomes a living source of ever closer ties of love.”

Beauty as a path to transcendence

For the first time, the Ratzinger Prize distinguished a non-theologian, the orthodox composer Arvo Pärt. This, according to Pope Francis, is perfectly aligned with the theological vision of Benedict XVI: beauty, the pontiff said, is a “privileged way to open ourselves to transcendence and encounter with God” Indeed, art allows for serenity and “elevation of the mind.”

In his address, Pope Francis wanted to share his “intense and affectionate thoughts” for the pope emeritus. “His prayer and his discreet and encouraging presence accompanies us,” he said. And his teaching remains “alive and precious to the Church.”

After the speech of the Supreme Pontiff, Arvo Pärt played his Pater Noster on a piano that had belonged to Benedict XVI during his pontificate. The Estonian musician composed this piece for the 60th jubilee of priesthood of the pope emeritus, celebrated in June 2011.

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