Global 'lockdowns' unlock beauty of our Catholic faith, provide 'fresh breeze of hope'

As museums and historical sites in Italy slowly begin opening their doors after several months of lockdown, technology may have helped create a "renaissance" in Italy's tourism industry and stimulate an interest in the rich art and architectural history of the Catholic faith.

Bishop Luis Zarama found that one small benefit of the restrictions from the COVID-19 restrictions was finding time to watch “Inside the Vatican,” a PBS program that offers “unprecedented access to one of the most important places in the Christian world.”

“Often, when we watch television, it’s very difficult to find shows that speak well or show a positive side of our Church; perhaps that is why we can become accustomed to thinking that there is nothing good in the Church, said Bishop Luis. “So much of our history is so beautiful. We should take this opportunity to embrace that history in a new way.

“When I stumbled upon 'Inside the Vatican,' I found that it provided a positive and refreshing view of what goes on in the Vatican under the pontificate of Pope Francis,” said Bishop Luis. “Furthermore, what is striking about this program is that it is not produced by a religious institution but rather by an English journalist who, at the end of the program, says that he is proud to be a Catholic.”

Bishop Luis recommends “Inside the Vatican,” especially now. “During these difficult times in which we are living, to receive good news is always uplifting – a fresh breeze of hope – that helps us strengthen our faith and our love for our Church.”

The global “lockdown” resulting from COVID-19 has created more opportunities to view the Church’s art and history and has also provided many with additional time to enjoy them, even if only in a virtual way. In 2018, the Vatican Museums developed seamless virtual walkthroughs of its vast collections with a 360-degree, high-definition view available through its website, Originally conceived as a way of temporarily resolving accessibility issues, particularly for visitors using wheelchairs, the virtual tours have become a way for would-be tourists unable to travel to take in the breathtaking masterpieces on display in the museums' hallowed halls.

According to Catholic News Service, Rome-based art historian Elizabeth Lev recently created the Masters' Gallery Rome in response to the travel restrictions across Italy. This is a new virtual tour website where visitors not only contemplate the beauty and wonders of Rome's artistic heritage but also learn their origins from experienced historians and scholars.

Visitors of the new website can enroll in courses where they can discover the wonders of St. Peter's Basilica, unearth the archaeological marvels of the Roman port city of Ostia Antica or learn about the inspiration behind the works of Caravaggio. Lev told CNS that what separates the Masters' Gallery Rome from most virtual tours already available online is "the idea of really breaking down the information, breaking down what it is you're seeing, explaining it, sharing it, pulling out the bits of knowledge that you need to know in order to understand the image."

The benefits of the Masters' Gallery Rome, she noted, go beyond the practical reasons of being able to see and learn about historical sites and artistic depictions in a time when access to such things are greatly limited. It also serves as a preparation that allows future tourists and pilgrims to truly appreciate Rome's vast heritage and "stimulate a hunger on the part of visitors to see parts of Rome that are not on the top 10 TripAdvisor reviews," she said.

As many parents are confronted with the prospect of continuing to homeschool for the rest of the year, Lev said the Masters' Gallery Rome can be helpful in presenting "history, humanities, art, the things that are being dropped by the wayside and (to) […] be able to instill them in the next generation."