Novena to St. John Paul II

The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is the first work of art that I have created as a Christian. I converted to Catholicism a year and a half ago. Until then, the many references to Christianity in my art were made solely out of cultural and artistic interest, given that I was an atheist.

I chose to release The Viriditas Chapel on the feast day of Saint John Paul II because my attitude towards his person illustrates an important transition. Like many of my secular leftist peers in the 1980s and 1990s, I hated this pope more than any other. Why? Well, that’s where the problem lies. Because I had vaguely heard something about him being very very conservative and forbidding the use of condoms while people where dying of AIDS. That, apart from his frequent appearances on tv, was the extent of my knowledge of this man.

This was not atypical. Most of my opinions as a progressive liberal where based on flimsy quotes overheard in cheerful conversations. Mind you, I did not see myself as shallow. It simply never occurred to me that I should investigate a little before judging along with my friends or agreeing with people who seemed sympathetic or smart.

The same applied to Christianity. Oddly so, because I have been interested in this topic for many years. And I read all sorts of things about Christian art and architecture, and in the Bible. I visited hundreds of churches all through Europe, even attending services as research. I had a lot of respect for believers to the point of being slightly invidious. But somehow it never occurred to me to investigate the core of Christianity: faith itself. The thought that I should maybe read one of the Church Fathers or watch a movie by Christians on YouTube never even briefly crossed my mind.

When I converted I started devouring information about the faith. It was all so fascinating! It felt like I was using my brain for the first time. And often I came across references to Pope John Paul II. Apparently the man I had hated with such indifference was a very important presence to my fellow Christians. People loved the guy! They even made him a saint. So I started reading his Theology of the Body and came across his Letter to Artists.

In preparation for the release I am praying a novena as atonement. Not just for Saint Pope John Paul II but for the injustice with which I have regarded the Catholic Church all my life. And as an expression of gratitude to the almighty Lord for receiving me into his flock in spite of my obvious unworthiness.

Michael Samyn, Rome, 14 October.

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