Ms. Silverman proposes that Pope Benedict should sell off the Vatican: land, buildings, artwork and everything to feed the poor of the world. Ms. Silverman’s proposal [linked out of fairness], which is laced with profanity, seems new and interesting. Or possibly she was watching the 1968 movie “The Shoes of the Fisherman” starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn, which makes a similar case without swearing.
Ms. Silverman’s proposal misses two points. First, the Church already does feed the world. We said this last week, but today, on World Mission Sunday and a few days after U.N. World Food Day, it bears repeating. No private or public institution serves and cares for more poor than does the Catholic Church. Secondly, the artistic holdings of the Church are more than simply dollar signs in a frame on a wall.
The artistic treasures of the Church, not only in Rome but throughout the world, are more powerful than any dollar. Why? They inspire hearts to the Gospel life. I have prayed Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, I have toured the Sistine Chapel, and I have visited the Vatican Art Museum. I spent 30 minutes looking at Raphael’s Transfiguration. This painting of the event from Matthew 17 is over 12 feet tall and features some of the most vivid colors I have ever seen. This painting inspired me with a greater love for Jesus Christ, in almost 500 years it has inspired millions. The artwork of the Vatican is there to turn hearts to Jesus Christ and to service of our fellow man.
Even in a slow week, I am sure few, if any, of you heard of the Special Synod for Africa, that was going on in Rome. Pope Benedict and several hundred African bishops gathered to pray and talk about the Church’s mission to Africa. From this meeting comes the heart of Christian mission. Sr. Genevieve Uwamariya, a Sister of St. Mary of Namur. Sr. Genevieve is a survivor of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda in which most of her family was killed while in a church. One day, while visiting prisoners awaiting execution for genocide, Sr. Genevieve shared this with the Holy Father:
“On August 27th 1997 at 1 p.m., a group from the Catholic association of the “Ladies of Divine Mercy” led me to two prisons in the region of Kibuye, my birthplace. They went to prepare the prisoners for the Jubilee of 2000. They said: “If you have killed, you commit yourself to ask for forgiveness from the surviving victim, that way you can help him free himself of the burden/weight of vengeance, hatred and rancor. If you are a victim, you commit yourself to offer forgiveness to those who harmed you and thus you free them from the weight of their crime and the evil that is in them.”
This message had an unexpected effect for me and in me...
After that, one of the prisoners rose in tears, fell to his knees before me, loudly begging: “Mercy”. I was petrified in recognizing a family friend who had grown and shared everything with us.
He admitted having killed my father and told me the details of the death of my family.
A feeling of pity and compassion invaded me: I picked him up, embraced him and told him in a tearful voice: “You are and always will be my brother”.
Then I felt a huge weight lift away from me... I had found internal peace and I thanked the person I was holding in my arms.
To my great surprise, I heard him cry out: “Justice can do its work and condemn me to death, now I am free!...”
I also wanted to cry out to who wanted to hear: “Come see what freed me, you too can find internal peace”.
This mission of forgiveness is the heart of the Church. If we are to create a culture of life then we must begin by forgiving those who harm us, even grievously. When Sr. Genevieve forgave this man, genocide did not then become allowable- she forgave the person and not the action. With this in mind, listen again to the letter to the Hebrews:
"Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help."