Dear friends and readers,
I finally begin writing this newsletter on Christmas day, though I know very well that it will not be possible to send it before the new year 2011. I know that this day should be dedicated to the solemn liturgical celebrations and to the quiet sharing of time with one´s own family members; but it does not seem out of place for me to consecrate some thought to the "family" of 17,455 readers and friends who receive this newsletter. Indeed, I am delighted to be able to bring them all together at this time, with the thoughts, joys and sufferings that accompany each one, with the responsibilities and intimate convictions and high ideals that are specific to each.
The period since the last newsletter, which was sent on the occasion of the reopening of the Library, has been very intense; I think you will understand and forgive me if I was not able to give a sign of life until now.
1. The Pope´s Visit
It is a most pleasant duty to begin with an account of the visit which Pope Benedict XVI made to the Library on Saturday, December 18. I should like to record some of the impressions this event made on me and on us all, as I had the opportunity to express them to some friends immediately afterwards, when the images and memories of that experience were still vivid in my mind. "It was a happy and successful visit (perhaps a bit rushed, but the Pope´s schedule is always "tight," and it would not have been appropriate to tax him further). But I (we) could see that he showed great interest and attention to the places we showed him, to the work that had been accomplished, to the "treasures" of our collection which were presented to him by some of us, and to the people who lined up to greet him individually in a brief but very "human" encounter (I tried to indicate to him what the task of each staff member was, adding, where possible, also some personal element, e.g. concerning the members´ families, especially their children...). If I may add one thing, which I think is accurate (and which I hope is not a mere cliché), it is that this was an encounter with the Pope´s "delicate" humanity, simple and reserved, attentive to what is good, to what has substance, and to a person with whom you can, after a while, exchange a meaningful glance and even a light pleasantry, in all simplicity..." A few more words to describe the conclusion of the visit: "He gave us his blessing outside the Library, greeting us as he exited from the Galea side (i.e. from the new exit on the side facing Porta Sant´Anna). There had been a long and heavy rain in the morning; when the Pope arrived, some traces of calm began to appear; and someone pointed out that when he gave his final blessing, a ray of sun broke through the clouds and shone with all its beauty. It was all well planned by Providence, which never disappoints...!".
No speeches were given on the occasion of the visit: it was a meeting with the people, more than 130 of them, including regular staff and collaborators; as well as some benefactors. "This is a dream which I have been nurturing for a long time," as Cardinal Farina, our Librarian, told us: a dream now come true in the best possible way, as a Christmas gift for each one of us.
On this occasion we presented three symbolic gifts to the Holy Father. The first two are works which are also related to the reopening. First, the commemorative medal, offered by the Pessina company to whom we owe a large part of the construction work, with the profile of Pope Benedict XVI and the Salone Sistino in the background on the obverse, and the new Library entrance on the reverse. Then the bilingual (Italian and English) Agenda 2011 of the Vatican Library - which I mentioned already in the previous newsletter - accompanied by illustrations taken from manuscripts, printed books, prints and drawings, medals and other art works of the Library. The third gift, a publication of the Romite Ambrosiane of the Order of Sant´Ambrogio ad Nemus, entitled Una casa sulla roccia: il tempo nell´eternità. Luoghi e parole di vita ("A house on the Rock: Time in Eternity. Places and Words of Life"), was intended to remind the Pope of the valuable support in friendship and prayer which the Romite del Sacro Monte di Varese have offered for the Library´s building works and reopening, and which they still provide for the Library´s mission.
2. The Conference and the Message of Pope Benedict XVI
As you know, the reopening of the Library had been marked by a three-day conference, from 11 to 13 November, preceded on the evening of November 10 by the inauguration of the exhibition. The conference was very well attended. In the opening session we enjoyed the participation of about 300 people, and until the end there was a constant presence of about 200 participants. I shall not take the time here to remind you of the content or to describe in detail the results achieved: we intend to complete very quickly, and certainly by the end of this year 2011, the printing of the Proceedings in a volume of the Studi e testi series (and speakers who read this know that we are expecting the final version of their papers by the end of this month!). However, I would like to insist on the positive atmosphere which characterized those days: the climate of interest and appreciation for the issues addressed and also of active participation, rather like a "family" which has returned to find its house ready and waiting for it and which is also (if I am not mistaken) proud to see it brought to a timely reopening so that they can continue on the usual path of their research, to take up again their natural share in the value and significance of the cultural mission that unites us.
On the Library´s website you will find the text of the introductory paper which I gave at the Conference. Here I would like to express our special gratitude for the message which the Pope sent to us on that occasion: we perceived it as a shared perception, common to him and to us, of culture and of "serious, disinterested and well-qualified research," in which "every partial truth is part of the Supreme Truth of God and every thorough and meticulous investigation to ascertain it is a path to reach it." I cannot mention here all of his remarkable phrases, so I leave each reader to become acquainted with the full document in all its richness.
I would, however, like to record here the expressions in which the Pope speaks of the Library as an institution rooted in the needs of the government of the Church, as a key instrument of the Church itself: the Pope has assured us that we are not something incidental, but that we are somehow placed at the root itself of the institution. The Apostolic Library - writes the Pope - is " an integral part of the means required to carry out the Petrine Ministry;" it is thus "rooted in the exigencies of the Church´s governance." In fact, "far from being merely the result of the daily accumulation of a refined bibliophilia and the random collection of works, the Vatican Library, is a valuable means - which the Bishop of Rome cannot and does not intend to give up - which enables him, when considering problems in a perspective of long duration, to perceive the distant roots of situations and their evolution in time." This quotation is not intended here as a grounds for pride or vanity or any sort of demands on our part, but rather as a serene expression of an important truth which concerns us, and of the desire to share with all scholars the call to responsibility which is inherently linked to it.
3. The Exhibition
Since the days of the Conference, when it was inaugurated, the Exhibition has remained open and is assiduously frequented by visitors from all backgrounds and age groups: from school groups to groups of workers; from students to the many pilgrims and tourists. We have received wide appreciation, and we are most grateful to all those who contributed to its preparation and were able to skillfully combine the constructive substance of an authentic cultural message with a simple and lively multimedia communications model. Admissions have now passed the 30,000 mark, and the exhibition may be prolonged from the end of January until Sunday, March 13.
All those who have not yet had the opportunity are strongly encouraged to visit it; I indicate once again the website for reservations. But I hasten to add that, for those who cannot come to Rome by that date and for all who are interested, the exhibition catalog is available through our website (where the introduction to the catalog may also be read).
4. Other News
Speaking of publications, I want to at least briefly mention the appearance of the first volume of History of the Library, entitled Le origini della Biblioteca Vaticana tra Umanesimo e Rinascimento (1447-1534) ("The Origins of the Vatican Library between Early and Late Renaissance"), edited by Antonio Manfredi with the collaboration of many scholars from inside and outside the Library. A presentation may be found on our website, from which orders may also be placed.
Finally, among many other news items in this rich period, there are two which must not be forgotten. First of all, the inauguration of the new papyrus conservation room, which was set up with appropriate climate controls for this type of material. On October 5, in the presence of Frank Hanna, the American benefactor to whom we owe the donation of the Hanna Papyrus 1 (Mater Verbi), containing the Gospels of Luke and John and written around the year 200, Cardinal Raffaele Farina blessed and inaugurated the room with the name Sala Papiri "Mater Verbi".
Also, in reference to Cardinal Farina, I wish to record two honors which he recently received. On April 27, as proposed by the Austrian Minister for Science and Research, the President of the Republic of Austria conferred upon him the Österreichische Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst I. Klasse, which was delivered to him last December 17 at the Embassy of Austria to the Holy See by Ambassador Marin Bolldorf. On 13 October, in addition, the Cardinal was appointed Honorary President of the Academia Cardinalis Bessarionis. These are awards which I am not only very happy to mention here, but which also give me the opportunity to confirm the esteem and affection which all of us in the Library feel for "our Cardinal"; and, for my own part, a deep gratitude for the wisdom, drawing on great experience and discretion, with which he continues to help me (and us) steer the Library´s course.
In my introductory paper to the Conference, I expressed regret at not being able to link the reopening of the Library even to a definitive launch of our manuscript digitization project, which has now passed the "test bed" stage and goes on with perseverance, albeit in small steps. I pointed out that, over the months (indeed, over the years, given that almost three years have passed since we first began planning the project), many different, interesting ways have been considered to raise the substantial funds which will be necessary to render it operational. I also said that we can claim not to have been idly waiting for something to happen, but rather busy exploring many possible paths, so that it is reasonable to hope that a solution is not far off. I am sorry to have to continually postpone the moment when we can announce that all reservations have been overcome and that we can finally proceed; but I have the serene hope that these words do not express an empty and uncertain promise, but rather that, at the appropriate time, we will have found the right and secure path towards a successful implementation. Of course, we are grateful to all those who wish to contribute, even in a very small way: it is always possible to use the "Support the Library" page on our website.
Begun on Christmas Day completed in the new year 2011, this newsletter closes with the author´s heartfelt best wishes, with sincerity and affection to you all and to your loved ones.