FOURTH PUBLIC ASSEMBLY OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMIES
The fourth joint public assembly of the Pontifical Academies took place in the new Synod Hall in the Vatican on 3 November 1999. The theme of the assembly was The Martyr as the Living Image of Christ, the Faithful Protomartyr. A Model of Christian Humanism, which is a contribution the Pontifical Academies can clearly make to the cause of Christian humanism in the Third Millennium.
Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Committee for the Co-Ordination of the Pontifical Academies, chaired the assembly. He emphasised that the theme chosen slots neatly into preparations for the year 2000, which is almost upon us. He reminded participants that one of the signs suggested by the Holy Father to help people "live the exceptional grace of the Jubilee with greater fervour" (Incarnationis Mysterium 11), something that is "ageless but especially powerful today, is the memory of the martyrs […] Their witness must not be forgotten. They are the ones who have proclaimed the Gospel by giving their lives for love. The martyr, especially in our own days, is a sign of that love which sums up all other values" (ibid., 13).
The Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was present to represent the Holy Father, who could not be present, and on his behalf presented the Pontifical Academies Prize, instituted by His Holiness in 1996. In his address, Cardinal Sodano stressed that "the martyrs are not only one of the glories of the Church’s past", but that many have shed their blood as martyrs this century. The first group he mentioned were those who died for their faith under communism, many of whom are not even remembered. He suggested that, although the wall in Berlin had come down ten years ago, a "mental Berlin wall" still exists in many people’s minds, an inability to face the brutal facts of that part of history. He went on to say that the choice of this year’s theme is a reminder of the perennial value of the Church’s archaeological and historical heritage, and the enduring significance of the martyrs. This is where Christian culture can find the values that go to make up authentic humanism. The Cardinal said that the Holy Father granted a blessing to all those present and their loved ones.
The Committee for the Co-ordination of the Pontifical Academies had entrusted to the Pontifical Roman Academy of Archaeology and to the Pontifical Academy Cultorum Martyrum the task of preparing two presentations on the day’s theme. Monsignor Victor Saxer, President of the Pontifical Roman Academy of Archaeology, spoke on "The origins of the theology of martyrdom and of the cult of martyrs", and Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, Curator of the Pontifical Academy Cultorum Martyrum, spoke on "The martyr image in Christian art".
The Holy Father also awarded the third Pontifical Academies Prize, which is meant to reward and encourage either young people or cultural institutions for their outstanding contribution to religious science or art inspired by faith, in the promotion of Christian humanism. In accord with the proposal made by the Council for the Co-ordination of the Pontifical Academies, the prize was awarded to Dr. Lucrezia Spera, from the diocese of Potenza – Muro Lucano – Marsico Nuovo, for her dissertation entitled "Ad Limina Apostolorum: sanctuaries and pilgrims in Rome between late antiquity and the high Middle Ages", which was published in the collection entitled The geography of Rome and sacred space. Territorial variations along the route of the seven churches pilgrimage.
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