Pope calls for investing in church’s audiovisual archives

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Pope Pius XII holds flowers as he greets people on his 80th birthday, March 2, 1956, in this frame taken Oct. 18, 2013, from a film in the Vatican Film Library. The Vatican has a collection of more than 8,000 films, the oldest an 1896 short reel of Pope Leo XIII. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — There is a growing and urgent need to invest in and plan concrete initiatives to preserve and share the Catholic Church’s rich but fragile audiovisual heritage, Pope Francis said.

By investing now, he said, “the economic costs will certainly be lower than those that will be paid from a historical, cultural and religious point of view with the irreparable loss of so much Catholic audiovisual heritage.”

The pope’s comments came in a written address he prepared and handed out to members of the board of directors and the scientific committee of the Audiovisual Memories of Catholicism Foundation (Fondazione MAC) during an audience at the Vatican Jan. 12.

The foundation was created in 2023 to save, preserve and promote the accessibility of audiovisual and other media archives related to Catholicism. It seeks to encourage restoration projects, connect archives and film libraries, promote the digitization of archival materials and work to have those already digitized find a common space for sharing results.

Pope Leo XIII is seen giving a blessing in a frame taken Oct. 18, 2013, from an 1896 film in the Vatican Film Library. The short film of Pope Leo is the oldest in the Vatican’s collection of more than 8,000 films. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Indeed, it is known that, due to their specific characteristics, audiovisual documentation has management costs that many archival institutions struggle to cope with, both in terms of time and economic and human resources,” the pope wrote in his text.

That is why developing a unified direction for how to proceed and developing shared solutions to common problems appear to be “the only viable way forward today,” he wrote.

Restoring the films in the Vatican Film Library

“The urgency to invest and plan specific actions in this field is therefore impelling,” he said, since the costs of investing in preservation are lower than the price of forever losing such a heritage.

The pope praised the foundation’s current initiatives and urged them to begin a new one: begin sorting, according to updated scientific guidelines, the patrimony of the Vatican Film Library.

This scan from a damaged negative shows Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, left, with other cardinals as they arrive Feb. 21, 1939, for a conclave at the Vatican after the death of Pope Pius XI. Cardinal Pacelli was elected the new pope and chose the name Pius XII. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Although “modest” in how much is present in its archives, what is of particular value is interest in the “methods of acquiring the audiovisual documentation preserved there, according to the lines dictated by my predecessors,” from a historical-cultural point of view, he wrote.

The pope welcomed the foundation’s project to restore the films the Vatican Film Library has on the different holy years. “In view of the 2025 Holy Year, it seems to me a virtuous way to show everyone a possible and necessary path to value our rich but fragile ecclesiastical audiovisual heritage.”

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.