Cardinal Ravasi

Cardinal Ravasi's Embrace Of Art And Fashion

Cardinal Ravasi’s embrace of art and fashion, the two dominant enthusiasms of secular culture, conveys a this-wordly moralism more theatrical than moral. Of all modern substitutes for religion, art is the most esteemed. It veils contemporary materialism in the language of transcendent values. The cardinal wasted no time embracing the peculiar nature of the high-stakes art world. Pope Francis was installed in March, 2013. Two months later Ravasi announced the Vatican’s first foray into the Venice Biennale. Beginning with a modest prehistory in 1893, the Biennale has evolved into the ultimate bazaar. Continue Reading
Courting Pop Culture: The Cardinal & The Rocker

Vatican surrender to compartmentalized culture—divided by age and social brackets—did not begin with Pope Francis. John Paul II initiated that trajectory.  (Try to imagine Pope Pius XII being made an honorary Harlem Globetrotter as was John Paul. Or the Vatican releasing a cartoon version of Pius’ life on DVD.) Under Jorge Bergoglio’s pontificate, the Vatican goes an extra mile in blurring the distinction between evangelizing popular culture and flattering it. Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has a knack for promoting the Church’s secular replacement. Continue Reading
Museum Theology

Glancing quickly, I misinterpreted the opening lines of a recent bulletin from Sandro Magister’s Chiesa . My eye fell on a reference to the Venice Biennale and, at the same time, on a thumbnail image of a contemporary chapel. At once devotional and festive, it looked to be a lovely ensemble. My immediate impression was that the Vatican pavilion would contain a model chapel, a beautifully designed invitation to prayer—a challenge—addressed to the international art crowd. I was ready to recant all my misgivings about Cardinal Ravasi’s foray into the belly of the casino: I take it all back! Continue Reading
The Church Suffering

This past November, Cardinal Ravasi posed in New Statesman as the Vatican’s impresario of contemporary art. At the same time, a continent away, Bishop Johnson Mutek Akio of South Sudan stood with his people under genocidal assault by the al-Bashir regime. The cardinal’s ambition to get the Church back into the contemporary art business was hailed as “a bold move.” Silence greeted the bishop’s valor in risking his life to sustain a persecuted diocese. Heroic endurance in the face of Islamic terror does not conform to the sensibility—or insensibility—that understands culture as a kind of sauce poured like hollandaise over daily living, over thought and action. Continue Reading
Venice, Redux

My term “engine of evangelization” might have created some confusion. Let me clarify. God knows, the art world is mission territory. To be sure. But that is not the purpose of Vatican City’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale. No one proposes to proselytize the money changers with a lagoon view at the Hotel Danieli. The Vatican seeks to become a player on the contemporary art scene ostensibly to counter the wider, prevailing drift toward secularization. As Newsweek phrased it, the Vatican “hopes to revive its cultural side” with new interpretations of “tired spiritual art.” Continue Reading