"Great Discoveries" Awaiting in the Catacombs

Pope Creates Vatican Post Focused on Archeology

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 20, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has created and filled the post of archeological superintendent of the catacombs, in a move that will bring the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology to function more like other Vatican dicasteries.

The Pope on Saturday named Monsignor Giovanni Carrù to the role of secretary of the commission. The monsignor had been servicing as subsecretary of the Congregation for Clergy. Fabrizio Bisconti, the outgoing secretary of the archeology commission, has been named the archeological superintendent of the catacombs, a post that did not previously exist.

In an interview Sunday in L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said that this change reflects an intention to give the commission a "general structure similar to that of other Vatican organizations."

"Monsignor Carrù has extensive experience in the Roman Curia, particularly in an important congregation like that of the clergy," he explained. "He arrives to consolidate within the commission all of the general characteristics of management and functioning that are needed so that the profile of the commission resembles as much as possible that of a Vatican organization."

This change, Archbishop Ravasi continued, "has brought about the need to introduce the role of archeological superintendent." The person in this post "will take on the responsibility of offering the president and secretary all of the necessary scientific support, taking into account the importance of the investigations that are being done and the complexity that these types of investigations have acquired at the technical level."

The archbishop said the role is like that of a "permanent assessor" and is an "important task entrusted to a scholar with great experience," such as Bisconti.

Bisconti, the prelate affirmed, "in the field of knowledge of the catacombs is certainly a figure of unquestioned importance at the international level."

Archbishop Ravasi went on to explain some of the accomplishments achieved in the ongoing work of Bisconti and his team. He noted, for example, the discovery last month of the most ancient icon of St. Paul, found in the catacombs of St. Thecla.

He further pointed to the restoration of the burial site on the Via Dino Compagni, which has included some 100 paintings in 10 years of work.

The work of the pontifical commission is extensive, ranging from the excavation in the catacombs of St. Agnes, St. Sebastian and Peter and Marcelino, to projects under way outside of Rome.

"Notable paintings are emerging from the catacombs of Carini in Sicily," Archbishop Ravasi said, "and great discoveries await us. Also, the excavation of the small catacombs on the island of Pianosa is commencing again, and we do not exclude the possibility of finding surprises."

The commission is also in the process of compiling an "information census" of the thousands of objects discovered in Italy's catacombs.