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A sign of God in the midst of the city

Antoni Gaudí, when he began the construction of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia , said prophetically that this temple would become the center of the city of Barcelona. The Basilica, which was built on what was then the outskirts of a city in constant expansion, is today at the geographic center of Barcelona, equidistant from the mountains and the sea and from the two rivers which border it, the Besos and the Llobregat . This brilliant architect got it right. The Sagrada Familia rises in the center of the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona, which, like other great cities in Western Europe, has become more and more secularized. Some ask what it means to erect a temple, like the Sagrada Familia , in a modern society.

This marvelous and beautiful work attracts millions of people from all over the world because the “new architecture” of Gaudi’ is built on that which the human spirit searches for insistently: proportion, harmony, beauty. We could say that the Basilica is a cartography of the sacred: a great open map where the world can read the important questions of life, of the beginning and the end, heaven and earth.

Benedict XVI in his homily dedicated to this temple, said, “In the heart of the world, placed before God and mankind, with a humble and joyful act of faith, we raise up this massive material structure, fruit of nature and an immense achievement of human intelligence which gave birth to this work of art. It stands as a visible sign of the invisible God, to whose glory these spires rise like arrows pointing towards absolute light and to the One who is Light, Height and Beauty itself.”

The construction of a Church, and especially of this Church of the Sagrada Familia , in an era in which man attempts to build his life turning his back to God, as if God didn’t exist, is a work of profound significance. It is the presence of the transcendent in the secular life of the city. The Holy Father in his homily, said that Gaudi’, “by opening his spirit to God, was capable of creating in this city a space of beauty, faith and hope which leads man to an encounter with him who is truth and beauty itself. The architect expressed his sentiments in the following words: “A church [is] the only thing worthy of representing the soul of a people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man”.”

The presence of beauty and the symbolism of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is an announcement of the great mystery of Jesus Christ: the incarnation, the passion, death, resurrection and ascension to heavenly glory. The President of the Dicastery for the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said, “in the Sagrada Familia of Gaudí we find a great icon to that which the new dicastery intends to dedicate itself. Its towers, with pinnacles pointing towards the sky make us look towards heaven. It coexists with a sea of modern buildings which indicates that the city and the temple are not two estranged worlds but are made for each other.”

In the midst of a modern, European city and in a temple in which secularism seems intent on confining religious expression to the private sphere, obscuring the visibility of faith and religious communities, this Basilica, visible from every corner of the city, is an invitation to not stop at the horizontal dimension of human existence but to lift our gaze upwards.

This was “Gaudí’s dream” in creating this original and unique “cathedral.” Contemplating the towers which today are an emblem of the city of Barcelona, he said, “These inscriptions will be like a helicoidal band that rises along the towers. All who read them, even the incredulous, will intone the hymn to the Holy Trinity as they discover its contents: the Sanctus, Sanctus , Sanctus , which while they are reading it will guide their gaze towards the heavens.”

There is no doubt about the evangelizing intention of our genius architect, the servant of God, Antoni Gaudi’. I am certain that his desire to bring non-believers to the confession of the glory of God was inspired by his respect for them and the goodness of his heart. The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia , at the center of Barcelona, for its singular beauty and for its rich biblical and liturgical symbolism, continues to offer many of its visitors a “Courtyard of the Gentiles” from which to be evangelized and for many others a personal encounter with the Lord through the catechesis of the stones of its porticos, its naves and its towers.

The dedication of the Basilica occurred together with a visit to one of the Church’s charitable institutions, the Obra Benefico-Social “Nen Deu .” The Pope underscored the relationship between these two realities saying, “They stand in today’s Barcelona as two symbols of the fruitfulness of that faith which has marked this people deeply and which, through charity and the mystery of God’s beauty, contributes to the creation of a society more worthy of man. Truly, beauty, holiness and the love of God enable people to live with hope in this world.

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