Vatican News staff writer
“It is necessary to preserve the religious-cultural heritage, both national and international, that belongs to each of the religions. For this type of heritage, it is necessary to create innovative forms of valuing and use through close collaboration with state, regional and municipal public bodies,” said Monsignor Francesco Follo.
The Holy See’s Permanent Observer to UNESCO made this call on Thursday at an intercultural meeting held online, organized by PRERICO, the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Places of Religion and Ritual.
The webinar themed: “Reuse and Regenerations of the Cultural Religious Heritage in the World - Comparison among Cultures,” aimed at starting a collective work with a common document on cultural-religious heritage. It also discussed the shared meaning and human values on which nations must build cultural policies in relation to other countries to preserve the cultural-religious heritage.
ICOMOS - the International Council on Monuments and Sites, is a non-government organization that works to conserve and protect cultural heritage places.
Preserving religious-cultural heritage
In his intervention Msgr. Follo stressed that the preservation of religious cultural heritage contributes significantly to the goal of educating new generations, passing on to them, through these religious-cultural roots, “the security of a past that can be the basis of the present and the guide in the future.”
In this regard, he highlights four recommendations from the Holy See which include: clearly identifying religious-cultural heritage to restore, guard, catalogue and promote them; establishing a “philosophy” of cultural goods that favors better knowledge and use of them in religious teaching, rites and cultures; favoring the formation of artistes on the theological, liturgical and iconographic contents of sacred places, and promoting cooperation between civil and religious leaders without forgetting the owners of the religious-cultural goods.
The value of religious cultural heritage
Explaining further, Msgr. Follo said that religious-cultural heritage sites are important for their cultural or historical values and their religious and current values. They are, therefore, endowed with religious values that give them a particular character deserving of a specific discipline and protection.
He noted that cultural sites are, and can be even more so, “bridges between different countries and peoples, promoting a culture of encounter in peace,” through to their reference to the transcendence of God, who is the source of fraternity.
Therefore, the approach we should have toward cultural heritage should not only consist in seeking to conserve the works of art as bearers of beauty, “but also and above all in highlighting the meaning and the religious-cultural value of the different elements that are part of a site, its cultural identity, the encounter with the community to which they belong, by placing them in their architectural, geographical and urban context.”
Protecting cultural heritage, he continued, “means guaranteeing an inclusive dialogue, a permanent encounter with the community in order to favour a true regeneration, respecting the values of the property to be protected.”
Holy See supports the protection of religious-cultural heritage
Msgr. Follo went on to reaffirm the Holy See’s support for initiatives aimed at promoting culture and the goods it produces “so that personal and social life can flourish in the good, the true and the beautiful.”
He stressed that it is a matter of helping to preserve the historical memory to be passed on to new generations, with those elements that have shaped the identity of a people, and that carry with them “a component of harmony, beauty and a sense of truth” that helps every man and woman grow in their own integral humanity.
The value of significance
Drawing attention to the planned work of restoration and reconstruction of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, as well as other places of religious interest protected by UNESCO, Msgr Follo highlighted that the work of restoration and reconstruction implies “reconstituting the origin of a work” and finding “the generating fact that created its significance.”
He said that the value of significance is a priority that takes into account the needs of worship and the practices linked to it that must continue to be exercised there. It is, therefore, crucial to protect this “significance” in places of worship and reconstruct the elements that respond to the purpose for which the building was erected.
“Form preserves and transmits its beauty only if it adheres to its purpose, so as to preserve the perception of its identity,” he stressed.
Msgr. Follo went on to further call for efforts to identify and analyze the different forms of destruction of places of worship, noting that only “knowledge of the reasons, the context and the intentions of the processes of destruction of the religious heritage allows us to define the responsibilities in the short, medium and long term and to develop and implement sustainable protection strategies.”
Finally, he reiterated the Holy See’s desire that places of worship be left to believers, non-believers and future generations in keeping with the preservation of cultural heritage and its fundamental religious dimension.