It’s a great privilege and pleasure to welcome and support the exhibition ‘Reflection of Mystery’ marking the centenary of the birth of St John Paul II. It is such a shame that this exhibition cannot be displayed in our gallery at Farm Street and be accompanied by a proper launch. But thank God for the medium of the virtual world which allows us to celebrate this special exhibition remotely and before the end of this anniversary year.
In his Letter to Artists of 1999 John Paul summarised why art is such an important gift to humanity. For John Paul appreciation of art does not simply represent gratitude for beauty and skill, not just the kind of patronage you would expect of a pope, but for him art is a medium through which deep existential and theological truth is mediated. Art elicits deep existential and theological questions about what it means to be human and about our creator God. At this time of pandemic we are being called anew to consider humanity’s role in creation as nature itself seems to be calling us to account. So for John Paul artists have such an important role. Moreover, the truth that humanity is made in the image of God and given stewardship of creation means that humanity is called to artistry. Artistry is itself a special God-given gift which crafts and shapes the material world, making good use of the divine spark of wisdom innate in human beings which allows the artist’s work to communicate something of the divine.
For John Paul this understanding of art as revealing the divine in this world, revealing the Word made flesh, means that the artist, of whatever field, has a special vocation. John Paul’s vision is surely relevant today in a world which is searching anew the power of beauty to reveal existential truth. John Paul encourages the spirituality and ethos of the artist to be grounded in this conviction that their work has inestimable value in fostering the common good and in revealing to us the splendour of God’s creation. How much that is needed today as we respond to our holy father Pope Francis’ call to rebuild the Church and society through rooting ourselves in eternal truths which proclaim the power of good over the power of evil, the power of beauty over ugliness, of light over darkness. As John Paul would have it the Church needs art and art needs the Church to embrace these mysteries. In today’s world, as we eventually emerge from the pandemic, we surely will want to reflect on these mysteries all the more as we are called to rediscover the eternal gift of the beauty of humanity made in God’s image and of the natural world we are challenged all the more urgently to care for and protect.
Farm Street has long been associated with the arts. In the first half of the twentieth century we were called “the Artists’ Church”. We have always wanted to use art as a channel for evangelisation. In our current time we have been associated with particular artists, notably Andrew White our artist-in-residence, and Tim Schmalz, the sculptor of Homeless Jesus. Our regular visiting exhibitions aim to show the power of art to inspire faith and living out the Gospel in the world. And so it is a great pleasure in this special centenary year to welcome this exhibition in honour of our most beloved St Pope John Paul II. We hope you enjoy your visit and are inspired to embrace the mysteries this exhibition reflects. St John Paul II, pray for us.
Fr Dominic Robinson SJ
Farm Street Church of the Immaculate Conception
Chair, Justice and Peace Commission
Diocese of Westminster