Interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider on the eve of the consecration of the new Cathedral of Karaganda, "visible work of art in the service of evangelization"
Paul De Maeyer
On Sunday, September 9, 2012, will be consecrated the Cathedral of the Diocese of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, in a solemn celebration presided over by Card. Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and the Papal Legate for the consecration. The cathedral was planned and willed by the then Archbishop-Bishop of Karagangda, Msgr. Jan Pawel Lenga, and by the auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Athanasius Schneider, whom he commissioned to prof. Rodolfo Papa a pictorial cycle of 14 paintings dedicated to the Eucharist, to the crypt. Bishop Schneider has devoted to the Eucharist, the book "Dominus east. Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion", Vatican 2008 (with a preface by Mgr. Malcolm Ranjith). In the following interview, Bishop Schneider explains the historical and spiritual reasons underlying the construction of the Cathedral and to the Committee of the pictorial.
What is the historical and spiritual significance of the construction of this Cathedral in Karaganda?
Bishop Schneider: The first reason was this: to have a cathedral to a more worthy and visible. Since the Diocese of Karaganda used to date a building even during the time of persecution, and this building is located on the outskirts of town and is not outwardly recognizable as a church. A Cathedral in a more central place, built in a style unmistakably Catholic tradition, that is in the Gothic style, is a quiet but powerful sign and means of evangelization in a world where Catholics are about 1% or 2% of the population , where the majority of inhabitants are Muslims and where there is a significant minority of the Orthodox. In addition, a considerable part of the population does not belong to any religion, are people who seek God
The architecture of the Cathedral and the objects inside are being made with the greatest care possible, because they represent a true artistic beauty and at the same time the sense of the sacred and the supernatural. All this is suitable for inciting religious sense and the sense of faith in the faithful and visitors, and to express the act of adoration of the Blessed Trinity. This is therefore suitable to facilitate the execution of the first commandment, and the ultimate goal of all creation: the worship and glorification of God
The historical and spiritual significance has this dimension: the new cathedral is a place sacred to the memory of the countless victims of the communist regime, since around Karaganda was one of the great and terrible concentration camps - those Gulag - in which have suffered more than one hundred persons belonging to different ethnic groups. At the same time the new cathedral will be a sanctuary for prayer of atonement for the crimes of atheist and communist regime. The architectural beauty, the art, the new organ in the Cathedral are also a way to promote the culture.
As this initiative has been welcomed by the Catholic political authorities and the Muslim community?
Bishop Schneider: It was greeted with a sense of respect for the Catholic Church. The civil authorities and the population feel honored to have such a building in their hometown of extraordinary architectural beauty and high cultural significance. The civil authorities regard the new Cathedral as a gesture by the Catholic Church for the promotion of culture.
You are a small Catholic community is able to build a cathedral in mission, we could say that this is a model that can spur the revival of faith in old Europe?
Bishop Schneider: The small Catholic community was able to give mainly a spiritual contribution to the construction. However, the greatest contribution material originated by our brothers and sisters from the old Europe. This is nice, since it manifests the fraternal solidarity, manifested a fraternal exchange of gifts, similar to the early days of the Church, when the more affluent communities helped the neediest communities. Faith reborn even in old Europe when you give more and more first place in all things to Jesus, when the life of faith will always return more concrete, visible and more "embodied".
What are the problems that daily confronts the Catholic community in Kazakhstan?
Bishop Schneider: The everyday problems are the lack of priests, the huge distances between the parish community, the inadequate material resources for the construction works of the churches and the social work and education, emigration of young people abroad some bureaucratic impediments.
What are the relations with other Christian denominations?
Bishop Schneider: The relations with other Christian confessions are good. There are sometimes meetings with bishops and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church and representatives of Protestant communities. We have, so to speak, an "ecumenism of life", where human relations are more important than doctrinal or theoretical discussions. Works have in common with the Orthodox and Protestant brothers in defense of life.
What are the developments and prospects?
Bishop Schneider: We want to maintain relations of mutual respect, personal relations of friendship and continue to work for the common defense of life and moral values. The art is definitely one effective means of evangelization, as the Magisterium reminds us, and the Holy Father encourages us and encourages us to use it.
Can you tell us your experience of the buyer, who wanted so much art and so much beauty in his diocese, as a sign of the witness of the Catholic faith?
Bishop Schneider: The construction of a new cathedral with a real beauty and sacred art is also a proclamation of the first duty of the Church to give to God, God Incarnate, the first place, a visible place, because God is made visible in the Incarnation and the Eucharist, give God the first place in the sense of offering his honor an artistic beauty, for God is the author of all the beauty and deserves to be given in his honor by the believers works really beautiful.
Moreover, such a Cathedral can be a concrete manifestation of the tender of the believing community, the bride of Christ, to the Body of Christ, offering in honor of the Body of Christ in a sense the holy extravagance of the sinful woman, whom offered in honor of Christ the jar of costly ointment price extraordinarily large ("more than three hundred pence," cf. Mk 14:4). To anoint the body of Christ, the sinful woman has spent a sum with which you could support a family for a whole year. The people present were indignant for such a waste. But Jesus praised this holy waste, saying: "He has done a good work for Me" (Mk 14:6). It still has the "holy waste" for Jesus
Many people have already visited the new cathedral. The majority were non-Catholics and even non-Christian. These were attracted by beauty. Visibly expressed their admiration. Some women do not Christians have even cried with emotion in my presence. Once during a half an hour I showed and explained to a young couple Christian Cathedral with all the details of the art and the sacred.When I finished and we left the Cathedral, the Christian woman told me: "In this hour I have cleansed my soul. Can I come once more alone? because I want to see these beautiful things in the silence. " I said, "Certainly, it can come as many times as he wants." In that half hour I did, through the explanation of sacred art and beautiful, a lesson on the truths of the Catholic faith.
The reaction of most people who have ever visited the Cathedral, especially non-Christians, was so spontaneous admiration, silence, opening for the supernatural. I have noticed in these cases the truth that the human soul is naturally Christian, as Tertullian said, that God has inscribed in the human capacity to know Him, to worship Him. The duty of Catholics is to lead these souls open to faith and worship supernatural, faith and worship of Christ, the Holy Trinity, to lead souls to Heaven. In great bronze doors at the entrance of the cathedral are written these words of Sacred Scripture: "Here is the house of God, this is the gate of heaven" (Domus Dei - door Caeli). Therefore, these sacred words are a very suitable motto for this cathedral, that is, to see this work of evangelization, as well as for all the work of evangelization.
Could you point out the spiritual and theological significance of the paintings he has done to make the Crypt?
Bishop Schneider: I wanted to express in the Cathedral in the most profound mystery of the Holy Eucharist, because the Eucharist builds the Church spiritually, the Eucharist makes the Church live again until the end of time. The true foundation of the Church is the Eucharist. So I put in the crypt, almost in the basement of the Cathedral, a series of 14 images on the Eucharist, in analogy with the 14 Stations of the Cross in the nave. The whole of Sacred Scripture proclaims Christ made flesh, man. But Christ has made Eucharist, has left us His flesh really, truly and substantially present in the Eucharistic mystery. In a sense, we can say: the whole of Sacred Scripture proclaims Christ in the Eucharist. I chose the most famous images of the Eucharist of Holy Scripture which is the best known symbols of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Abel, the sacrifice of Melchizedek, Abraham's sacrifice, the paschal lamb, the manna in the desert, the food of the Prophet Elijah on the way to the mountain of God, the temple of Jerusalem, Bethlehem as a "house of bread," the miracle of the wedding at Cana, the multiplication of the loaves, the Eucharistic discourse in John's Gospel, the Last Supper at Emmaus, the Lamb in Jerusalem Celeste.
The relationship between a bishop and an artist are perhaps the secret to the success of a work so important. Could you tell us about his experience of the buyer who commissioned these 14 paintings the artist and art theorist Rudolf Pope? How did your collaboration and how it has developed a relationship of trust necessary because of the masterpieces are born?
Bishop Schneider: The "cycle of the Eucharist" was the last dream of mine for the Cathedral. I knew something would be missing without the "cycle of the Eucharist." I prayed to the Lord to send me an artist first and foremost deeply religious, an artist who loves the Eucharist, an artist who can paint in a very sacred and edifying for the faithful. By a gentleman known, I met with the prof.Rodolfo Papa When I saw some of his religious works, and talked to him about faith and the Eucharist, I realized that this artist is what the Lord has sent me. My belief is still consolidated when I read his book on the theology of religious discourses on sacred (with the introduction of the card. Cañizares, Ignatius Press, San 2012).