Superior of Missionaries of Divine Revelation Speaks of Evangelizing in Rome's Basilicas
By Salvatore Cernuzio
ROME, 2 FEB. 2012 (ZENIT)
Walking the streets of Rome recently, one cannot fail to notice sisters robed in a distinctive green habit. They visit historic and artistic places of the capital, in particular cathedrals, abbeys and catacombs.
They are the Sisters of Divine Revelation, dedicated primarily to catechesis, and embracing a vocation to bring man to faith through the eternal and profound beauty of art.
ZENIT spoke with Mother Rebecca Nazzaro, the superior of the congregation.
ZENIT: Sister Rebecca, first of all I would like our readers to learn briefly the history of your order.
Mother Nazzaro: Our history began with the apparition of the Virgin of Tre Fontane on April 12, 1947. The Virgin appeared to Bruno Cornacchiola, an anti-clerical Protestant, who was there with his three children to write a talk against the Madonna, which he would give the next day to an Adventist group.
Suddenly the children left and Bruno found them kneeling in front of the grotto, where he also saw a luminous point appear that came ever closer and touched his eyes: It was the beautiful Lady who, totally covered in a green mantle, with the word of God in hand, said to him: ''You persecute me, return to the holy fold — the Catholic Church — I am the Virgin of Revelation.'' Hence, our charism was born from this extraordinary event.
ZENIT: When was your order established?
Mother Nazzaro: We received approval in 2001, but the project of Mother Prisca, our founder, was born much earlier. Mother came from Catholic Action, and she had already lived many years close to Cornacchiola, following his catecheses, his meetings. Then, little by little, she also felt in her heart the decision to dedicate herself totally to the Lord, along with the call to found an order that would spread this story of love and mercy. She was the one who chose everything, even the making and color of our habit in reference to the mantle of the Virgin during the apparition.
However, Mother Prisca did not see her project realized, as she died in 1998.
ZENIT: What spiritual legacy did your founder leave you?
Mother Nazzaro: Evangelization, founded on three white loves: the Eucharist, Mary Immaculate and the Holy Father, solid leaders of the Catholic Church. Naturally, our activities also include catechism in parishes, meetings, catechesis, and being available to the dioceses. It was, in fact, from the diocese that the invitation was made by Cardinal Ruini to be present in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, from where the history of ''Catechesis With Art'' began.
ZENIT: What is your particularity, or strong point? How did this initiative come into being?
Mother Nazzaro: Coming into contact with the beauty of St. John Lateran, which we didn't know very well, we began to consult all the guides available, from the commercial to the more profound ones of scholars, and we began to appreciate the richness that the basilica has at the historical, religious and architectural level.
Hence, we decided to do a catechesis — taking up the Biblia pauperum— for our friends, relatives, acquaintances, in which we went over the history of salvation through the high reliefs of the lateral walls of the central nave. It was a very emotional moment, so much so that those participating insisted that we repeat the experience.
ZENIT: And then?
Mother Nazzaro: We began to repeat the experience in the Lateran Basilica and, little by little, to think of creating a small itinerary, all at a very simple level.
In addition, we received encouragement from the Vicariate's Catechesis Office, which heard of these meetings and asked that they be made known. From there very slowly we began to make a specific program and a small graphic.
Then, in 2007 a friend we had in common put us in touch with Cardinal Comastri, recently appointed His Holiness' vicar for St. Peter's Basilica, who wished to respond to the Pontiff's desire that St. Peter's not become a museum, but a living basilica. Having heard of our endeavor, the cardinal asked us to write a guide of art and faith for St. Peter's Basilica.
ZENIT: A beautiful goal as well as a great honor!
Mother Nazzaro: Indeed! We worked the whole summer and on Sept. 8, 2007, we handed it to the cardinal, who did the finishing touches, and was so happy that he asked us to lead the guided visits in the basilica as well. The text was translated into 10 languages. From St. Peter's we then moved easily to the Vatican Museums, and it was a dream, always desired but never sought, which came true. Think of the sensation we felt every time we entered the Sistine Chapel to impart catechesis.
ZENIT: How do you carry out your catechesis?
Mother Nazzaro: We begin with an in-depth study of the work of art, inquiring into the framework, which helps us to understand the historical moment, what the Church lived through at the time. Hence the work speaks, it expresses a language of truth and faith. An artist who paints an altar piece as, for example, Raphael in his Transfiguration, must keep in mind that there is an inseparable connection between what happens on the altar and the painting. In this case, in fact, there is a division of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in two scenes that involve two spectators: the priest who is celebrating and the faithful. The same is true of Michelangelo's Pieta: the extended, outstretched arm of the Madonna is an arm that indicates ''my Son died for you; this death was not in vain.'' It is precisely this kind of connections that we seek, in addition to particular attention to details, because these in fact are what make a work special.
ZENIT: When did this all start?
Mother Nazzaro: This is the eighth year that we follow a calendar, pausing to study the paleo-Christian basilicas. In fact, the thought has developed in us that we are called to rediscover the Christian roots of our faith, especially those that take root in St. Peter's Basilica, which is not only a church ''dedicated'' to the Apostle Peter, as so many people believe, but the place that really contains his body, buried in the old necropolis.
The more the world, the European community, the relativistic mentality that surrounds us, as the Pope says, insist on taking away what is our foundation, the more we are driven to carry out this evangelizing mission.
ZENIT: The Church is aiming a lot at projects dedicated to the relationship between art and faith. How is the public reacting?
Mother Nazzaro: Emotionally, because the Lord touches the cords of the heart in an extraordinary way. It is understood that the evangelical message is transmitted through this type of catechesis with images. We are happy that this type of project is developing, because we feel somewhat like ''pioneers,'' given that we have been doing it for years. Moreover, we always say that this is not our science, but the science of the Church; we haven't invented anything.
ZENIT: So, art can really call back to faith those who have lost it?
Mother Nazzaro: Absolutely! Art is a "privileged" instrument for evangelization, the highest expression with which man comes out of his nature to touch the transcendent. What greater means can one have? Through images, art enables us to touch the invisible with the visible, and this awakens an emotion not only on the superficial level, but an emotion that latches on to the rationality of the message of truth contained in the Holy Scriptures and in the Tradition of the Church. Through art, we must and we can ''give a reason for our faith,'' as St. Peter exhorted, which is our primary objective.
ZENIT: To whom is this program addressed?
Mother Nazzaro: To everyone, but, in particular, we are trying to spread it in schools. Every year, in fact, ''outings'' are planned with the children: The problem is that they are taken to mosques, to synagogues, when, instead, Catholic teachers propose a visit to St. Peter's, they are not even taken into consideration. Therefore, we are greatly encouraging schools to take youngsters to the Basilica and to the Vatican Museums — Cardinal Comastri has also encouraged us in this with a letter — because we are convinced that to take up the faith again in Europe we must begin with the children. They, in fact, are fascinated by the beautiful, the true, but what kind of society do they face? A society of image, of a mistaken image.
ZENIT: And how are you operating in this regard?
Mother Nazzaro: We use the thought and vision of the artistic and sacred image, also to remind those who observe how profound and clear the faith of that time was, because it was based on the Scriptures, on the thought of the Church.
The sponsors and artists themselves have had a troubled life, but before a biblical subject, they put themselves in a relationship of homage, of respect, of veneration, because they knew they were entering a mystery, something greater than themselves.
ZENIT: Unfortunately now this sense of art is being lost.
Mother Nazzaro: It's true, the subjects have changed, there is no longer that passion for the manual. Everything is created on the computer. This is why we hope to carry on with this itinerary and extended it beyond the territory of Rome, not to take a step backward, but to take up again ''what we were" and ''what we did'' and to improve ourselves. Let's hope that, with the password, all this will work.
[Translation by ZENIT]