The Holy See
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Atrium of the Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 11 October 2006


Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Distinguished Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

With great pleasure I am taking part in this ceremony to inaugurate an especially important exhibition. I congratulate all those who conceived of it and succeeded in setting it up.

It is being promoted to emphasize a truly historic event: the fifth centenary of St Peter's Basilica, calculated from that 18 April 1506 when Pope Julius II laid the foundation stone of the new church.

First of all, I greet and thank Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, Archpriest of St Peter's Basilica, and Archbishop Angelo Comastri, President of the Fabric of St Peter's. I then greet Bishop Vittorio Lanzani, Delegate of the Fabric, the other collaborators and all those who have contributed in various ways to accomplishing this interesting project.

Gratitude and appreciation go in a special way to Prof. Antonio Paolucci, principal curator of the Exhibition "Petros Eni - Peter is here", who has worked very hard to arrange the exhibition.

Nor can I forget all those who have made possible, with their generous contributions, an event of such great artistic and historical value and which fits in with the celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the new St Peter's Basilica.

From today, here in the Charlemagne Wing of Bernini's Colonnade, it will be possible to admire approximately 100 masterpieces from important museums around the world that will help visitors revisit the history of the Vatican Basilica by means of an ideal historical, cultural and spiritual journey.

They will also be offered the opportunity to become better acquainted with the personality and evangelizing work of the Apostles Peter and Paul, who sealed here in Rome their faithful adherence to Christ with martyrdom.

If, for the faithful of a specific area, every church constitutes a religiously significant reference point, the Basilica built over the Apostle Peter's tomb has an exceptional value for Catholics throughout the world.

Sacred Scripture teaches us that God has no need of houses built by man (cf. Is 66: 1-2; Acts 7: 48-50) and that the place in which he likes to make his dwelling is a humble heart and a people faithful to his will.

The Incarnate Word is the fulfilment of the figure of the house: through him we can adore the Heavenly Father "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4: 24).

However, the human being, a pilgrim on earth, needs symbols; and churches that are made of wood or stone - from small oratories in the countryside or the mountains to majestic cathedrals - are necessary signs for the Community of the faithful who are the true Church, a spiritual edifice built of living stones.

St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, together with the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, certainly has the greatest historical, and even more, symbolic value of all Christian churches.

While the Holy Sepulchre is the unparalleled memorial of the Paschal Mystery - actually, it contains the most Holy Places in which this Mystery was played out - St Peter's is the building most representative of the Church erected on the foundations established by Christ: the faith of Peter, Head of the Apostolic College.

Bearing in mind that at the beginning of the 16th century and until the end of the 17th the Vatican Basilica was a permanent "worksite", it is evocative to take from history itself the image of this worksite as a metaphor of the Church: a worksite in which the spiritual edifice is built day by day, in listening to the Word of God, in the celebration of the Eucharist and in prayer, but also in the encounter between peoples and cultures and in the elaboration of the Church's Magisterium.

Let us think of the last two Councils and especially of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council which opened precisely on 11 October 44 years ago. It gathered the greatest synodal assembly of all time under the vault of St Peter's. The reference to the Second Vatican Council must be linked to Bl. John XXIII, whose memorial we are celebrating this very day.

St Peter's, like every church and especially because of its universally symbolic value, must first of all and above all be a "house of prayer" in accordance with the invitation of Our Lord Jesus. Echoing the prophets, Jesus recalled God's will for the temple of Jerusalem: "for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Is 56: 7; cf. Mk 11: 17; Mt 21: 13; Lk 19: 46).

Therefore, knowing that I am expressing a thought very dear to the Holy Father's heart, I congratulate everyone, from the Archpriest to the youngest sampietrino [worker in St Peter's] who does his part in it every day so that pilgrims and visitors who enter the Basilica may breathe an atmosphere of recollection and, as far as possible, contribute to creating and maintaining it.

I am sure that the Exhibition "Petros Eni - Peter is here" will help to make people perceive the Vatican Basilica increasingly as a house of prayer and a school for growth in the faith.

Thus, as I renew my congratulations for this most timely cultural and spiritual initiative which I hope will be most successful, I would like also to express my keen wish that it will help visitors become more familiar with the Vatican Basilica, which for 500 years has been a place of encounter with Christ and his universal message of love.

I entrust this wish to the heavenly intercession of the Apostle Peter, who was buried precisely here, in the Vatican ager [fields], after having borne the supreme witness to the Gospel: martyrdom.

With these sentiments I am honoured to convey to everyone present the Blessing of His Holiness Benedict XVI.