VATICAN CITY, 1 DEC 2011 (VIS) - "Witness and Witnesses. The 'Martyria' and the Champions of the Faith" was the theme of the sixteenth public session of the Pontifical Academies, which was held yesterday in the great hall of the Palazzo of St. Pius X on Rome's Via della Conciliazione. The meeting also involved the presentation of the Pontifical Academy Prize, awarded by the Pope to institutions or to young researchers or artists who have distinguished themselves in promoting Christian humanism.
This year's prize went to the "Studium Biblicum Franciscanum" of Jerusalem which carries our archaeological excavations with the purpose of uncovering and reclaiming the biblical past of the Holy Land, and to Daria Mastrorilli, an archaeologist who specialises in the martyrs Zoticus, Ireneus and Amantius, carrying out research in the cemetery of that name in Rome.
Another archaeologist, Cecilia Proverbio, was granted the pontifical medal for her doctoral thesis on the iconography of paleo-Christian basilicas of Rome, in particular St. Peter's and St. Paul's.
During the course of the ceremony, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. read out a message sent for the occasion by the Holy Father to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and of the Co-ordinating Council of the Pontifical Academies.
The theme of the public session, the Pope explains in his message, provides an opportunity to reflect on Christianity's historical roots, its involvement in history "which it transforms profoundly thanks to the leaven of the Gospel and to sanctity, lived and witnessed".
In this context, the archaeological remains of early Christian communities are of particular interest, especially in the Holy Land, "the best place in which to seek signs of the historical presence of Christ and of the first community of His disciples", and in Rome, where the catacombs "attest that from its beginnings the Christian community exalted the champions of the faith as models and examples for all the baptised".
"The vast numbers of monuments and works of art dedicated to martyrs, as documented by archaeological excavations and other research, arose from the Christian community's conviction, yesterday as today, that the Gospel speaks to man's heart and is communicated above all by the witness of believers' lives ", the Pope writes. "If we look carefully at the example of the martyrs, those courageous witnesses of ancient Christianity, as well as at the many witnesses of our own time, we realise that they are all profoundly free, free from compromise and selfish ties, aware of the importance and beauty of their lives, and precisely for this reason capable of loving God and their brothers and sisters, setting a high example of Christian sanctity".
The Holy Father continues his message: "Today too the Church, if she wishes to speak to the world effectively, if she wishes to continue faithfully announcing the Gospel, ... must bear witness to the credibility of the faith, even in those areas which seem most intransigent or indifferent. In other words, she must offer concrete prophetic witness through effective and transparent signs of coherence, faithfulness and passionate and unconditional love for Christ, not without authentic charity and love for others. Today as yesterday, the blood of the martyrs and their eloquent witness touches the hearts of men and women, making them fruitful, ... open to accepting the life of Christ and to bringing resurrection and hope to the surrounding world".
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