Inauguration of an exposition prepared by Romano Cosci at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome (March 20, 2012)
My dear friends:
First of all, I would like to thank Professor Romano Cosci and his son Michele for enabling many people, through the work of their hands, to get to know Christ more deeply, and also to know better his faithful disciple, St. Josemaría, whose only aim was to serve our Lord, to serve the Church, to serve all souls.
In the previous presentations the topic of the artists’ hands has already been mentioned. Personally, it makes me very happy that these artists—Romano and his son Michele—have managed to give expression to the love we can show God through art. And I would like to add something you may not know. The hands of St. Josemaría were very expressive, so much so that two cardinals (who have been in heaven now for many years) who knew St. Josemaría said that his hands made holiness visible. They didn’t say this just to be polite, since St. Josemaría wasn’t present and they were speaking to other people. But it was true. St. Josemaría’s hands, which each day with deep emotion became a throne for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, spoke of God through their gestures. They not only spoke of God, but also brought God closer to people.
I think, therefore, that hands can truly help us to understand that we can turn our life into prayer. Artists with their works of art raise up a splendid prayer. We can bring it about that our prayer and our deeds are a masterpiece, provided that we always seek to offer them to God.
Having reached the middle of Lent (we are now in the fourth week), the artist Romano Cosci offers this exposition with a very evocative title: “Walking Alongside Christ.” As we draw close to the goal of Easter, which marks the victory of our Lord over sin and death, the contemplation of the holy face of Jesus—a suffering or glorious face, but always joyful—impels us to hasten our steps on the final leg of the journey that will reach its destination on Easter Sunday.
For many centuries, in Old Testament times, it was rigorously forbidden to make any images or representations of the invisible God. The coming of God into the world, through the incarnation of the Word, radically changed this. An icon of Jesus in the various moments of his life on earth becomes in a certain sense, as Blessed John Paul II said, “like a sacrament of Christian life, since in it the mystery of the incarnation becomes present. In it the mystery of the Word made flesh is reflected in a way that is ever new, and man—the author and at the same time participant—is gladdened by the sight of the Invisible.”
The artist expressly wished to include in the exposition some of his works related to St. Josemaría, the founder of Opus Dei and the inspirer of this university. The life of the saints is also a reflection of divine holiness; their representations help us to follow Jesus more surely, since they show us that holiness is truly accessible to everyone. This is exactly the message of St. Josemaría, who insisted that ordinary life is the setting for our encounter with God.
I would like to make a small parenthesis here. Romano Cosci came to know St. Josemaria so intimately, one could say, because he dealt on various occasions with the person who knew the founder of Opus Dei most deeply and lived most closely with him: Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, who liked to be considered the “shadow” of St. Josemaria. The shadow does not distort, but rather always accompanies the protagonist.
Bishop del Portillo went several times to see Romano Cosci while he was sculpting statues of St. Josemaría. He always returned very happy because—also thanks to his conversation with Michele—he saw in them, not only artists, but especially men who through their work were trying to pray and to be united to a person who was so close to God.
We give thanks to Bishop del Portillo (we are in a hall dedicated to him) because he was the architect of continuity in the succession to St. Josemaria, and he carried out the founder’s will with the diligence of an artist faithful to his creative inspiration.
Now I continue.
For centuries in the Eastern Catholic Church, the art of icons has been greatly developed. It is well known that the artists, before beginning their work, dedicated time to prayer and fasting, asking God for inspiration to represent his mysteries in a worthy way. The founder of Opus Dei was very aware of this venerable tradition. From the earliest times of the Work he encouraged painters, sculptors, and other artists, to facilitate the piety of the faithful through their art. And not only that: he exhorted them to pray before beginning their work. I recall an episode from the fifties of the last century, which I myself witnessed. St. Josemaria asked one of the Prelature’s faithful, an artist, to pray a Credo every day before beginning to sculpt a crucifix. Thus when the sculpture was finished, he said, it would be easier for him to make an act of sorrow and love while looking at our Lord on the Cross.
Benedict XVI has said the same thing. I ask you to pray every day for him, more each day, to help and assist him, realizing that he is watching over each one of us. The Pope remarked in an address to artists gathered in the Sistine Chapel: “An essential function of genuine beauty . . . is that it gives man a healthy ‘shock,’ it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum—it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft.”
I think that this should be the deepest desire of the artist involved in religious iconography: to strengthen the faith of believers, to give wings to their hope, to prompt them to love God with their whole being. Thus St. Josemaría’s ardent desire will be made a reality: “Bring the whole world, all the human values which attract you so strongly—friendship, the arts, science, philosophy, theology, sport, nature, culture, souls—bring all of this within that hope: the hope of Christ.”
With this hope, I now have the joy of inaugurating the exposition of the works of Maestro Romano Cosci presented on the premises of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.