\"It is an anniversary,\" said Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, \"that seeks to recall the history of centuries of culture and art which Roman Pontiffs promoted with constancy and competence, collecting works of the past to preserve them from oblivion and destruction, destining them to successive generations.\"
A visit to the Vatican Museums, the cardinal said today, shows that artists of all ages have expressed \"their own vocation at the service of beauty and faith.\"
\"At a time in which there is talk of museum as places of meeting, contact and dialogue, of maturity and reflection between religions, cultures, experiences and different conceptions of the world, the Vatican Museums interpret today, more than ever, and in an exemplary way, this role,\" the Vatican official affirmed.
The Vatican Museums were founded 500 years ago in the Vatican Gardens. That is where Pope Julius II placed the marble group Laocoon, an ancient artwork that had been discovered on Jan. 14, 1506, in a vineyard near the Colosseum.
Mass of thanksgiving
For his part, Francesco Buranelli, director of the Vatican Museums, outlined the various initiatives planned to mark the fifth centenary throughout 2006.
The official commemoration will begin this Friday, with the celebration of a Mass of thanksgiving in the Sistine Chapel, presided over by Cardinal Szoka and attended by the personnel of the Vatican Museums.
During the first half of 2006, two important museums, recently restored, will be reopened to the public.
\"They exemplify the commitment of the Roman Pontiffs to promoting evangelization through the language of art,\" said Buranelli.
The first of these is the Pio Christian Museum, founded by Pope Benedict XIV between 1756 and 1757 to house the various objects acquired by the Vatican during the first half of the 18th century, and \"to promote the splendor of Rome and affirm the truth of the Christian religion.\"
This museum will open on March 16 with an exhibition dedicated to finds made in the Roman catacombs during the 18th century, exhibited in glass cases decorated with busts of 24 cardinal librarians.
The second gallery to open will be the Missionary Ethnological Museum. Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, it was housed in the Lateran Palace until 1963 when Pope John XXIII decided to move it to the Vatican.
The museum, which opened to the public 10 years later under the pontificate of Paul VI, presents the cultures and religious practices of non-European countries, and their contacts with Christianity.
The sections dedicated to China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia are due to open June 20.
After their complete restoration, the wall paintings of the Room of Mysteries in the Borgia Apartment, the work of Pinturicchio and his assistants, will be presented on April 27.
The lunettes, decorated with scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary, have been cleaned, while restoration work also revealed a series of ornamental decorations hidden for more than 30 years behind heavy tapestries.
In the autumn, a new section of the Roman necropolis on the Via Triumphalis will be opened, discovered three years ago during work on the new Santa Rosa parking lot in the Vatican.
It will be possible to visit around 30 mausoleums and 70 individual tombs dating from the first century B.C. to the third century A.D.
The anniversary celebration will come to an end in November with the exhibition: \"Laocoon, at the Origins of the Vatican Museums.\" The event will be accompanied by an international congress on the theme of the identity, essence and role of museums in modern society.