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A priceless treasure re-emerged thanks to Pope Pius XII

· Excavation next to the tomb of Peter ·

The International Festival of Sacred Music and Art has happily reached its 10th edition thanks to the tenacity of Hans Albert Courtial. And it is significant that it is dedicated to the Madonna of the 1580th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus, where the important role of Mary in the history of salvation was clearly established. Paradoxically, the atheist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, in 1941 during the tragedy of World War II, wrote one of the most beautiful passages on Mary. How did this happen?

When pride is deflated, truth is more easily seen. Listen to what Sartre wrote about Mary: “On the face of Mary, one would need to paint the amazement that appeared only once in the history of mankind. Mary is the only person in the world who, holding her son in her arms, can say to him, “My God!” And she is the only person in the world, who, praying to her God, can say to him, “My Son!” (Sartre, Bariona or the Son of Thunder ). In this difficult moment in the History of the world and of Italy, the Festival dedicated to Mary is a trusting invocation that she help us, as only a mother knows how to do. The Sacred Music and Art Festival, according to happy tradition, is always accompanied by attention to the restoration of some artwork of primary importance. For some years, the Foundation has supported the restoration of the exterior of the Vatican Basilica: work which is progressing thanks to this support. At the same time, the Foundation has sponsored the restoration of two important mausoleums in the Vatican Necropolis: Mausoleum H or “dei Valeri” which concluded in 2007 and Mausoleum Phi or “dei Marci,” which has just been completed. Work on the latter was thanks to the dedication of a team of expert restorers (Franco Adamo, Adele Cecchini, Corinna Ranzi, Chiara Scioscia Santoro) to whom I extend my greatest thanks. The Vatican Necropolis re-emerged, after 1,600 years, during a courageous excavation authorized by Pope Pius XII in the years 1939-1950. And precisely seventy years ago, on January 18, 1941, the first sepulchre monument, the Mausoleum F or “dei Caetenni” re-emerged from the ground after many centuries. The Emperor Constantine, in order to build the great Basilica in honor of the Apostle Peter, had an entire necropolis covered over to create the floor of the new temple. And he wrapped up the venerated tomb of St. Peter with slabs of marble, hiding it. Very authoritative literary sources testified to the news of the martyrdom and burial of Peter on the Vatican hill, but no one had ever inspected the tomb. Amongst the many literary sources one could cite, I wish to recall what the historian Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea and a contemporary of Constantine, said, “Nero was the first emperor who was hostile to piety towards God. A circumstance which the Latin Tertullian revealed in this way, “Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first to persecute our faith, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.” They narrate that Paul was beheaded by him and Peter crucified in Rome and confirmation of the fact is found on their burial tombs in that city, inscribed with their names. Even Gaius, an ecclesiastical man who lived at the time of Zephyrinus bishop of Rome (199-217) in a writing against Proclus, head of the Catafrigi sect, speaks of the places where the sacred remains of the Apostles were deposited, saying, “I can show you spoils of the Apostles, if you go to the Vatican or along the road to Ostia, you will find the spoils of the founders of this Church.” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Storia Ecclesiastica , 25, 3-7). Today, the re-discovered necropolis is the irrefutable archeological proof of the events we know so well through literary sources. The first time that I visited “Memoria Nord” and “Memoria Sud,” I stopped and closed my eyes and imagined the moment in which the Christians of Rome buried the crucified body of the first Pope in the ground of the Vatican Hill. What did they feel? Certainly, they heard the reassuring voice of God who said, “And on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18). For 2,000 years these are the words which sustain the Church through the storms of history and allow it to continue its journey with serene trust.

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