Johan van Parys

Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts
Liturgy

Johan van Parys, a native of Belgium, has been The Basilica’s Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts since 1995. He holds graduate degrees in art history and comparative religious studies from the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. 

Johan enjoys writing for Basilica publications as well as for other outlets. Since 1997 he has been the managing editor for Basilica, the award winning Basilica Magazine. His book Symbols That Surround Us was published in 2012. Johan teaches in the School of Theology at St. John’s University. He is the current chair and founding member of the MN chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgists and Societas Liturgica.

(612) 317-3434

Recent Posts by Johan van Parys

Angels Unawares

Angels Unawares

Even though many of us do not see ourselves as migrants, humans seem to have migration in their blood. Over many millennia, our ancient ancestors migrated from the cradle of humanity in the horn of Africa to every corner of the world.  And even today, millions of humans are on the move. 

Sometimes migrations happen by choice as people are looking for adventure, are driven by curiosity or are responding to opportunity. Sometimes migrations happen out of necessity as people flee war, persecution, hunger and certain death. Sometimes migrations happen by force as people are removed from their homesteads or homelands and sent into endless misery or even are sold into slavery.

The bible is full of stories of migration. Adam and Eve were forced to leave Paradise. Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland to create a new nation. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. His descendants migrated from Egypt and ended up in the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert. Even the Holy Family fled their home out of fear that Jesus might be killed by Herod. 

Pre-existing communities have not always welcomed migrants with open arms. Sometimes weariness and suspicion about these new arrivals was warranted as they used force to stake claim to the land driving those who already lived there out. Just look at what happened in Biblical times; or look at what happened to the First Nations of the Americas when Europeans arrived; or look at what is happening around the world today. 

And yet, sometimes the reception of newcomers has been less than welcoming due to xenophobia or fear of strangers. And yet, the Bible makes it very clear that we are to treat strangers with dignity and respect. The letter to the Hebrews 13:2 admonishes Christians to “show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

As we know, Pope Francis is very concerned with the plight of migrants and refugees. On September 29, 2019, the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees Pope Francis dedicated a new monumental sculpture in St. Peter’s Square entitled Angels Unawares. Of note is that this sculpture was the first in some 400 years to be added to this iconic square. The sculpture was commissioned by Michael Cardinal Czerny who is the Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Angels Unawares was created by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian Catholic sculptor who has dedicated much of his work to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Our Homeless Jesus is one of his well known works.

Angels Unawares depicts 140 almost life size people on a boat. They represent migrants from all times and all places. Some of them have experienced migration by choice, others by necessity or force. Among them are a Jewish man fleeing Nazi Germany; an Irish boy fleeing the potato famine; an African family being forced into slavery; a Syrian man escaping the civil war in his home country; a Cherokee man on the trail of tears; a Protestant man escaping the Counter-Reformation. The ship even includes the Holy Family. 

As he sculpted each one of these 140 people, the artist used old photographs to represent historic migrants. Some of them he found in the Ellis Island archives. He also had recent immigrants come to his studio to model for this sculpture. Thus each one of the characters on the boat represents an actual person who migrated. In their faces one can see fear or anticipation, relief or dread depending on the reason for the migration.

At the center of this tightly packed boat are two large angel’s wings referencing the Letter to the Hebrews admonishment that any one of these sisters and brothers of ours might be “angels unawares.”

Catholic University in Washington D.C. was given a second cast of the sculpture. Before its permanent installation this fall, Angels Unawares has been traveling to several cities in the United States at the request of the artist. Minneapolis and the Basilica of Saint Mary will be the last but one stop on its way back to D.C. We will host the sculpture throughout the month of August. It will sit on the plaza in front of The Basilica.

On Sunday, August 1 we will have a welcome ceremony and we will bid goodbye to the sculpture on Thursday, August 26. There will be lots of programming around Angels Unawares between those to dates. More details are to follow.

In the same way as the Homeless Jesus calls us to solidarity with people who are experiencing homelessness, Angels Unawares calls us to solidarity with people who had to leave their homes and found refuge here. As we care for them, we may be caring for angels unawares.

Visit mary.org/angelsunawares for more details. 

 

 

Angels Unawares Pope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels Unawares

Angels Unawares

Even though many of us do not see ourselves as migrants, humans seem to have migration in their blood. Over many millennia, our ancient ancestors migrated from the cradle of humanity in the horn of Africa to every corner of the world. And even today, millions of humans are on the move. 

Sometimes migrations happen by choice as people are looking for adventure, are driven by curiosity or are responding to opportunity. Sometimes migrations happen out of necessity as people flee war, persecution, hunger and certain death. Sometimes migrations happen by force as people are removed from their homesteads or homelands and sent into endless misery or even are sold into slavery.

The bible is full of stories of migration. Adam and Eve were forced to leave Paradise. Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland to create a new nation. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. His descendants migrated from Egypt and ended up in the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert. Even the Holy Family fled their home out of fear that Jesus might be killed by Herod. 

Pre-existing communities have not always welcomed migrants with open arms. Sometimes weariness and suspicion about these new arrivals was warranted as they used force to stake claim to the land driving those who already lived there out. Just look at what happened in Biblical times; or look at what happened to the First Nations of the Americas when Europeans arrived; or look at what is happening around the world today. 

And yet, sometimes the reception of newcomers has been less than welcoming due to xenophobia or fear of strangers. And yet, the Bible makes it very clear that we are to treat strangers with dignity and respect. The letter to the Hebrews 13:2 admonishes Christians to “show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

As we know, Pope Francis is very concerned with the plight of migrants and refugees. On September 29, 2019, the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees Pope Francis dedicated a new monumental sculpture in St. Peter’s Square entitled Angels Unawares. Of note is that this sculpture was the first in some 400 years to be added to this iconic square. The sculpture was commissioned by Michael Cardinal Czerny who is the Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Angels Unawares was created by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian Catholic sculptor who has dedicated much of his work to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Our Homeless Jesus is one of his well known works.

Angels Unawares depicts 140 almost life size people on a boat. They represent migrants from all times and all places. Some of them have experienced migration by choice, others by necessity or force. Among them are a Jewish man fleeing Nazi Germany; an Irish boy fleeing the potato famine; an African family being forced into slavery; a Syrian man escaping the civil war in his home country; a Cherokee man on the trail of tears; a Protestant man escaping the Counter-Reformation. The ship even includes the Holy Family. 

As he sculpted each one of these 140 people, the artist used old photographs to represent historic migrants. Some of them he found in the Ellis Island archives. He also had recent immigrants come to his studio to model for this sculpture. Thus each one of the characters on the boat represents an actual person who migrated. In their faces one can see fear or anticipation, relief or dread depending on the reason for the migration.

At the center of this tightly packed boat are two large angel’s wings referencing the Letter to the Hebrews admonishment that any one of these sisters and brothers of ours might be “angels unawares.”

Catholic University in Washington D.C. was given a second cast of the sculpture. Before its permanent installation this fall, Angels Unawares has been traveling to several cities in the United States at the request of the artist. Minneapolis and the Basilica of Saint Mary will be the last but one stop on its way back to D.C. We will host the sculpture throughout the month of August. It will sit on the plaza in front of The Basilica.

On Sunday, August 1 we will have a welcome ceremony and we will bid goodbye to the sculpture on Thursday, August 26. There will be lots of programming around Angels Unawares between those to dates. More details are to follow.

In the same way as the Homeless Jesus calls us to solidarity with people who are experiencing homelessness, Angels Unawares calls us to solidarity with people who had to leave their homes and found refuge here. As we care for them, we may be caring for angels unawares.

Visit mary.org/angelsunawares for more details. 

 

Full Weekly Newsletter 

Last year we were gifted a new bronze sculpture by Peter Walker, entitled Pity of War. You can find this striking image near the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is a maquette for a much larger sculpture that is yet to be cast.

Peter Walker is a British artist who works in many different media including drawing, painting, sculpture, film, light and sound installations, etc. His works can be found in cities throughout the United Kingdom and around the world. LuxMuralis, e.g. one of his light and sound installations was at the Cathedral of Saint Paul last December.

Peter Walker is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. He is artist-in-Residence at Lichfield Cathedral. Pity of War was conceived to join the memorials for different causes scattered among some 25,000 trees in the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in Great Britain. 

Pity of War is intended to honor the millions of nameless and voiceless and forgotten victims of war and human atrocities whose lives were upended against their will. The sculpture honors those bereaved by loss of loved ones, of their home or property; those who were forced to flea and now live in refugee camps or were forced to move to lands other than their own where they are more or less welcome; those who are suffering from post-traumatic distress and lifelong disabilities.

Pity of War depicts the head of a young child. Her eyes are strikingly bound and her mouth is shown shockingly silenced by abstraction and even by the removal of certain features such as her mouth and ears. Without words the image commands attention and draws the beholder into the narrative.

In Peter’s words, Pity of War is “not only about the past, but about the present and the future. It is both a commemoration and a challenge.” Since we received Pity of War I have been able to spend time with it. The sculpture really speaks to me. It has given me solace as I have come to it with a heavy heart wondering if we will ever get it right. Sitting with the sculpture I have pondered our broken world and our apparent inability to stop ourselves from adding on to the brokenness time after time.

And though it was conceived to commemorate victims of war I started to rename the sculpture: Pity of Violence; Pity of Abuse; Pity of Intolerance; Pity of Bigotry; Pity of White Supremacy; Pity of Racism.

I welcome Peter’s words that this sculpture is not only a memorial to past victims. It is also, and maybe even more importantly a challenge to all of us today; a challenge to be better; a challenge to work for change; a challenge to end all wars, violence, abuse, bigotry, supremacy and racism.

I am very grateful to add this sculpture to our art collection here at The Basilica of Saint Mary during these times filled with challenge and hope. I only wish it was much larger so that it might speak even more loudly to even more people.

When you visit The Basilica next, please visit Pity of War and let this sculpture speak to you. It is my hope that it will help us in our mission to change hearts and promote the values of equity, diversity and inclusivity.

 

 

 

Holy Week is the most important week of the entire liturgical year, and the Sacred Triduum is the culmination of Holy Week. Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, will share a three-part "Symbols that Surround Us," video series through the rich symbology of Holy Week in our Catholic Church.
 
In this first episode for Holy Thursday, Dr. van Parys discusses two rituals at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday: the Washing of the Feet and the Procession to the Altar Repose. Both rituals give us a better understanding of who Jesus really was. While washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus teaches us humility and service. While offering us His Body and Blood, Jesus show us His profound love for us, which we are called to share with one another. By engaging in both actions we commit ourselves as followers of Jesus to do as Jesus did.
 
[All photos were taken before COVID-19.]
 
 
 
 

Christmas and Easter are the two most important Christian Holy Days. On Christmas we celebrate the beginning of God’s salvific adventure with humankind—that in Jesus, God became human. During Holy Week and especially on Easter we celebrate how Jesus made it possible for us humans to become more like God. 

In essence the mystery of salvation is this: God became human so that humans might become more like God. The way we do that is by imitating and emulating Christ. In other words, we become more like God by becoming more like Christ. Holy Week is a weeklong invitation to do just that.

Holy week begins with Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion. The image most associated with this day is Jesus entering Jerusalem, seated on a donkey with people waving palms, placing their cloaks on the road and singing hosanna. This striking scene illustrates the stark contrast between who Jesus truly is and who the people thought he was or wanted him to be. Their actions suggest they desired a worldly king while Jesus of course is anything but that. And when they figured out he was not who they thought he was they turned on him. 

The great irony is that after 2000 years of Christianity it seems like many of us still don’t understand who Jesus really is. Or maybe we just don’t want to understand because like the people in Jerusalem so many years ago we don’t quite like who he really is. And rather than our becoming more like Christ we prefer Christ become more like us. The result is the world we live in today with persisting injustice, inequality, racism, bigotry, etc. After 2000 years of Christianity we might have hoped for better. Do we find ourselves in this place because we have refused to become like Christ? 

So who was Jesus and who does he want us to be? Just consider the most important moments of Holy Week and remember his commandment to “do this in memory of me.” During Holy Week we see Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey; Jesus washing the feet of his disciples; Jesus instituting the Eucharist; Jesus forgiving the repentant thief; Jesus dying on the cross; Jesus descending into hell to break its bonds; Jesus rising from the dead. All these actions bespeak virtues that Jesus embodies and that must become our virtues if we truly are to be Christians.

Sitting on a humble donkey, riding into Jerusalem, Jesus teaches us that to become more like God we must embrace the virtue of humility. It is the path of humility that leads to salvation. Humility and not arrogance is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus. 

On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, a servant’s task. And he instituted the Eucharist sharing his body with us, giving himself totally to us. Both of these are great acts of charity. The virtue of charity is the second virtue we are called to embrace. It is the path of charity that leads to Salvation. Charity and not selfishness is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus. 

In forgiving the Good Thief on Good Friday Jesus illustrates that God is merciful and we are to be merciful like God. It is the path of mercy that leads to Salvation. Mercy and not indifference or worse condemnation is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus. 

Bearing his cross and enduring the pain of the crucifixion Jesus witnesses to the fact that self-sacrifice is of God. It is the path of self-sacrifice that leads to Salvation. Self-sacrifice and not egotism is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.

Descending into Hell while lying in the tomb Jesus broke the bonds of sin and liberated all those bound by sin, thus bridging heaven and earth. Liberating people from heavy burdens is of God. It is the path of breaking bonds and building bridges that leads to Salvation. Setting people free and not keeping people imprisoned by poverty, inequality, injustice is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus is an affirmation by God that all these virtues are the ones that are indeed the path to salvation, the same path God has set for us. Humility, charity, mercy, sacrificial love and liberating actions are embodied by Christ and in turn are to be embraced by us. Once that happens the salvific adventure God has prepared for us will finally be accomplished. May that day come soon. And may this Holy Week be a refresher in what it truly means to be a Christian.

 

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