Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Long time coming: 130-old church by ‘God’s architect’ consecrated

November 4, 2010

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When Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was asked to hurry along his work on Barcelona’s famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia, he was known to reply, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Of course, he wasn’t talking about the archbishop of Barcelona. He was taking about God, and that’s how he viewed his imaginative, soaring work — as something built for God, not man. Gaudí was known for piety, and he’s been dubbed “God’s architect.” A cause is underway for his sainthood, which is pretty impressive, since few artists have been given the honor.

Now, almost 130 years after Gaudí began his church, it’s finally being consecrated — and they pulled in the big guns to do it. No less than Pope Benedict XVI himself will pray the ritual Nov. 7 for its consecration during a papal trip to Spain.

The consecration of a church formally distinguishes the space as sacred, rather than “profane,” or common. Usually, churches are consecrated at the beginning of their use, after the buildings are finished. Although Sagrada was dedicated to the Holy Family, it was never consecrated, probably because it was never finished.

In 1926, Gaudí was hit by a tram, and he died a few days later. His art nouveau church was unfinished, and his vision was so grand that its actual completion was no small task. It remains unfinished today, although it’s hoped to be finished in time for the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death in 2026.

If you’ve never seen it with your own eyes, the thing worth knowing about Sagrada Familia is that it’s absolutely wild. I mean it — it’s the kind of thing that gives the imagination of Zaha Hadid a run for her money. With its eight telescoping spires, flying buttresses and sculptural forms that look like wax sliding down a 394-foot candle, it’s simultaneously grotesque and beautiful, medieval and futuristic. If completed according to Gaudí’s plans, it will have 18 towers, the tallest of which could soar to 560 feet.

Mass has been celebrated in the cathedral despite its construction status, and it draws an estimated 10,000 visitors each day. It’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site. People are attracted to the cathedral’s harmony, beauty and symbolism, Cardinal Martínez Sistach, the archbishop of Barcelona, told Zenit. It also converts, he added.

“I think the church evangelizes. Gaudí wanted all his buildings to lead people to God. I think he has more than achieved this with the Church of the Holy Family. There have been conversions, and we know some of them.

“The building of the church increasingly converted the architect himself, until he gave himself completely to this work, refusing proposals for new buildings offered to him in Paris and New York.”

According to the cardinal, Japanese sculpture Etsuro Soto, who was working on the church, and his wife, became Catholic because of Gaudí’s work in 1991.

“We know other examples of conversion, but no doubt they happened because a visit to the church helps to reflect on creation and salvation as works of God,” the cardinal added.

It’s hard to judge what’s going to be more impressive — the pope’s Nov. 7 consecration Mass, which is expected to include 1,100 concelebrating priests, or the cathedral itself when it’s completed in 16 years.

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So you think you know Pope Benedict

October 17, 2010

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I tend to shy away from books that look like “Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy,” a new release edited by Mary Ann Walsh, because it looks like one of two things I don’t usually value: a coffee table book or a hagiography, the kind of puff writing that glorifies the subject.

Can’t judge a book by its cover.

If you want to know what the pope thinks about the critical issues of the day, if you want to give yourself a quick course in church teaching on those issues, read the essays Sister Mary Ann has gathered.

And, if you want to know a lot more about Joseph Ratzinger, the man, read the personal reflections that make the Holy Father not just human but someone you’d like to meet and know better.

Know, though, that you won’t find anything negative in the book about B16 (thanks, Adam Robinson, for the shortcut nickname!). I can live with that because this Sheed & Ward imprint does well what it aims to do.

Photos aren’t superb

If there’s a weakness it’s that, in a book with a lot of photos on its 224 pages, there aren’t a lot outstanding images. There are a couple that are gorgeous, some that capture history, but many are pretty pedestrian. There are just a few too many boring shots of B16 greeting dignitaries. However: A wise editor once said, all photos look better the larger they are printed, and the design of “Benedict XVI” gives even those average pictures the kind of play that is attractive if not stunning.

The excellent photos, for my taste, are a couple shots I’d never seen before: a shot from the air of what B16 sees out his window when leaving Vatican City, and a beautiful image of the pontiff resting on a garden bench, looking like your grandfather resting after a tiring day, alone with his thoughts and at peace.

The essay I appreciated the most was Stephen Colecchi’s insight into B16’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (Charity in Truth) — summarized in almost bullet points. And I loved one by Don Clemmer headlined “Shepherding Cats.” Who knew the pope was a cat person?

Getting to know the pope

Just about every one of the personal reflections told me something I didn’t know about our German pope. Several American cardinals and archbishops — including Minneapolis-St. Paul’s own Archbishop John Nienstedt and native son Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis — shared anecdotes about times they’ve come in contact with the Holy Father, and like all good anecdotes they give us an insider’s perspective and tell us something about the pope we might never otherwise know.

He plays the piano? He skis?

Sister Mary Ann, who is director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, adds one of the best anecdotes — telling about the time the pope made a mistake and how he acknowledge it with self-depricating humor. And Nancy Wiechec, a great photographer and the visual media manager for Catholic News Service, gives readers an insight about the Holy Father that only comes from numerous opportunities to view the pope through her camera lens.

Even the 16-page resource section is fact filled. Did you know Joseph Ratzinger entered the seminary at age 12? That was in 1939 — the same year the Nazis invaded Poland to start World War II.

It’s a book worth its $29.95 price tag. –bz

Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy

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