„The Masterpiece of the Human Being Is His Every Act of Genuine Love“


Paul VI Hall, Vatican City, 1 October 2010

Papal address, given during a concert held in his honor in Paul VI Hall, Vatican City, October 1, 2010

Venerable Brothers,
Distinguished Gentlemen and Ladies, Dear Brothers and Sisters,

First of all I would like to address my heartfelt gratitude to ENI [Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi], in the person of the president, professor Roberto Poli, who courteously sponsored this evening. Already some time ago ENI offered to organize a concert to coincide with the restoration project on the lateral facades of St. Peter’s Basilica. After carrying out the memorable cleaning of the facade, admired by millions of pilgrims during the Jubilee of 2000, this great subsequent work is fully under way: entering the Vatican by the Arch of Bells or by the Petriano, one is surprised — on looking at the part that is already finished — by the appearance of the Travertine [marble], which looks like we’ve never seen it, soft and velvet-like. This is also a great “orchestral” work, and all those who direct it and carry it out, with mastery and diligence, deserve applause!

Hence ENI thought of a concert — perhaps to compensate for the noise that these works inevitably cause! Called to this were the Orchestra and Choir of the St. Cecilia National Academy, that is, two institutions that, because of their history, the quality of their art and their typically “Italian” sound, represent Rome and Italy in the global musical scene. To all the members of the orchestra and the choir I would like to offer my congratulations, with the hope that they will always be able to give life — as this evening — to immortal works. In particular, I express my heartfelt appreciation to the director, Neeme Jarvi, to the pianist, Andrea Lucchesini and to the choir master, Ciro Visco. A special greeting also to the group of the poor, helped by the diocesan Caritas, whom I wished to invite to experience with us this moment of joy.

And now a brief reflection on the music we have heard: a Haydn symphony, of the “London” group called “The Surprise,” or mit dem Paukenschlag for the characteristic use of the timpani in the second movement; Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, a quite atypical passage as genre in Beethoven’s landscape, but which shows in a synthetic way the expressive possibilities of soloist, orchestral and choral music; and placed in the middle, the Cecilia, vergine romana, of Arvo Pärt. The two works of Haydn and Beethoven have made resound all the richness and power of symphonic music of the Classical and Romantic period: With it human genius competes in creativity with nature, gives life to varied and manifold harmonies, where the human voice also takes part in this language, which is as a reflection of the great cosmic symphony. This form is characteristic above all of the Romantic and late Romantic period, but it goes further, it represents a universal dimension of art, a way of conceiving man and his place in the world.

Pärt’s work on the other hand, though making use of a similar instrument, a symphonic orchestra and a choir, wishes to give voice to another reality, which does not belong to the natural world: It gives voice to the testimony of faith in Christ, which in one word is “martyrdom.” It is interesting that this testimony is personified in fact by St. Cecilia: a martyr who is also the patroness of music and of bel canto.

Hence it is necessary to congratulate also the one who planned the program, because joining this work on St. Cecilia to Haydn’s and Beethoven’s works offers a contrast rich in meaning, which invites us to reflect. The text of the saint’s martyrdom and the particular style that interprets it in a musical key, seems to represent the place and task of faith in the universe: In the midst of the vital forces of nature, which are around man and also within him, faith is a different force, which responds to a profound word, “arising from the silence,” as St. Ignatius of Antioch would say. The word of faith needs great interior silence, to hear and obey a voice that goes beyond the visible and tangible. This voice also speaks through the phenomena of nature, because it is the power that has created and governs the universe; but to recognize it, a humble and obedient heart is necessary — as the saint teaches, whose memorial we celebrate today: Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Faith follows this profound voice where art on its own cannot reach: It follows it on the path of witness, of selfless giving of oneself out of love, as Cecilia did. Then the most beautiful work of art, the masterpiece of the human being is his every act of genuine love, from the smallest — in the daily martyrdom — to the extreme sacrifice. Here life itself becomes a song: an anticipation of this symphony that we will sing together in Paradise. Thank you again and good evening.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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