By Giada Aquilino
Australian-Canadian composer Julian Darius Revie was deeply impressed upon reading Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato si’. Already in 2015 he took to heart the exhortation to rediscover “harmony between humankind and nature” and reflected on how that “harmony could be a word of music”. Therefore, “he felt personally called and tried to find a synthesis so as to represent” concretely the principles the Pontiff had brought to light. Thus the idea to create a “Living Chapel” was born. It was inaugurated this past June in Rome’s Botanical Garden. Inspired by the Porziuncola Chapel in Assisi and by Laudato si’, the work of art unifies architecture, nature, art, music and religion through the plants, recycled material and musical harmony of which it is constructed. Landscape architect Consuelo Fabriani, the director of the Living Chapel Program who supervised its construction, spoke with Vatican News about how it came about.
He tells us that the Living Chapel is a team effort, sponsored by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the contributions of Canadian architect Gillean Denny, and about a hundred students from Pennsylvania State University, Rome’s La Sapienza University, the United Nation and the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
Composed of dozens of steel drums, percussion instruments which in this case are recycled barrels of oil and other material, out of which harmony “flows” from the water captured by the branches of the plants and shrubs, the structure was created in the United States. From there “it was exported at the end of January 2020 in two large containers”, says architect Fabriani. “It arrived in Rome in the middle of March, when the city was in complete lockdown, and we began to put it together”.
This is the first example of a Living Chapel in the world. It will go on pilgrimage in the next few months to other areas in Italy. Its installation “has become a particular symbol, precisely because it was assembled in a very difficult moment, that of the Covid crisis”. “We are now working”, the project manager adds, “to install one in the Sahel and one in the Ecuadorian Amazon – particularly vulnerable places on the planet. The objective is to light a beacon and draw attention to these areas, as well as to move forward with the action plan that the Living Chapel brings with it, that of reforestation”.
The entire earth is God’s house
“The concrete project”, Consuelo Fabriani continues, “is to go and plant trees, in support of the UN’s One Million Tree Campaign”. The context is that of reestablishing harmony between the Creator, humanity and all of creation. Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, Coordinator of the Ecology and Creation section in the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, used the words of Pope Francis when explaining this to Vatican News: “The Living Chapel, like every chapel, makes us remember that the entire earth is God’s house. As the Pontiff said in his Message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”, the Salesian priest underlines, “this earth is God’s house because God Himself, in the Incarnation, became flesh on this earth. The Living Chapel”, he emphasizes once again, “makes us remember that earth is sacred, that we must respect it, that we must take care of this house. Like every chapel, it is a precious place, it is important that we place ourselves in contact with God Himself”.
First Living Chapel
The idea of a green lung rising among both the historic and more recent buildings of metropolitan Rome responds to the environmental and social crisis that Pope Francis has brought to the fore, and which resounds in “the cry of the earth and the poor”, as Father Kureethadam echoes. In the face of the current environmental crisis, he reminds us that “scientists say that by planting at least one trillion trees, we will succeed in responding to at least a third of the problem. So, this chapel becomes a place from which arises the mission to disseminate plants and seeds which in their turn will create thousands of trees here in Rome and in throughout world. This is the ‘mother’ chapel, the first ‘Living Chapel’, but we hope there will be thousands of these chapels throughout the world, which in their turn will spark the creation of Laudato si’ Gardens, Laudato si’ Parks, and many, many new trees, as is already happening, so that the planet might once again be covered in green”.
An act of generosity
A program to distribute plants to associations, schools, parishes and people of good will has already come out of the Living Chapel. “We are creating events at the Botanical Garden to distribute saplings to those who have already placed orders. These saplings were planted last autumn and are growing near the Living Chapel”, Fabriani states. “For the most part, they are trees typical of the forests of south-central Europe, mainly small ash, oak, maple, cypress and fruit trees, even ancient fruit trees donated to the project by the Archeologia Arborea Foundation which has done a lot of important work to recover ancient varieties of fruit”.
The director of the Living Chapel Program is keen to highlight that “to plant a tree is an act of generosity in favor of life. This is why it is important to move to action even through young people because today’s youth are the ones who will plant trees for tomorrow’s youth. There is a chain reaction that is being put into action: we, today’s adults, can transmit an awareness and an attitude to young people in favor of the environment so that they it might be precisely these young people who will construct something better for future generations”.
For his part, Father Kureethadam adds, “the care of creation is a universal theme and Laudato si’s subtitle can help us: ‘on care for our common home’. All of us inhabit the same home; we might be Christians, Muslims, Buddhists. The ‘Living Chapel’, inspired by Laudato si’, could then truly be a symbol of this fraternity for which we now have this new Encyclical from Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, to say that as one family, we are called to “take care of each other”.
(This reportage was realized before precautionary measures were put into place to curb the Covid-19 pandemic)