– Beauty, under the care of artists, has the ability to transform even the everyday lives of men and women, Pope Francis said in a message for the annual meeting of the Pontifical Academies on Tuesday.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin delivered the Pope’s message during the 21st public session on December 6, before presenting the winning artists of this year’s Pontifical Academies Award, who are chosen by the pope.

“Architects and painters, sculptors and musicians, filmmakers and writers, photographers and poets, artists of every discipline, are called to shine beauty especially where darkness or gray dominates everyday life,” the pope wrote.

They “are the custodians of beauty, heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity.”

“I invite you, therefore,” he emphasized, “to cherish beauty, and beauty will heal the many wounds that mark the hearts and souls of the men and women of our day.”

Quoting Italian writer Italo Calvino, who said that “cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears,” the pope pointed out the bleakness that often exists in both cities and suburbs, saying the lack of beauty leaves more room “for fear” than for the “beautiful dreams” of young people.

The role of beauty, therefore, he said, is to help draw us out of this “utilitarian pragmatism” we so often fall into. He quoted Laudato Si, saying, when we “do not learn to stop and admire and appreciate the beautiful, it is not strange” that we begin to turn everything into an object for use.

This is why beautiful buildings, especially beautiful churches, are so needed, he noted.

Especially when beautiful churches are located in underprivileged, or perhaps degraded, areas they offer, “even in their simplicity and essentiality, an oasis of beauty, peace, acceptance.”

By favoring “an encounter with God and communion with our brothers and sisters” they become a “reference point for the integral growth of all people, for harmonious development and supportive communities,” he said.

But it isn’t just grand works of architecture or other art which can bring beauty into the world, Francis stressed. Even “simple actions, small sparks of beauty and love” shown to the environment in which people live can bring healing and provide an alternative to indifference and cynicism.

This year’s winners of the Pontifical Academy Award were the young woman Chiara Bertoglio, for her research in musicology and literature, and for her many concert performances; and the young man Claudio Cianfaglioni, for his research on poetry, and for his study of significant contemporary literary figures, such as Fr. David Maria Turoldo, an Italian poet.

The award’s prize of 20,000 euros is divided between the winners, who are chosen based on their work’s exceptional contribution “to the development of Christian humanism and its artistic expressions.”

Reflecting on the theme of the session, which was about bringing a human aspect to cities through beauty, reminded Francis of some of the words of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, he said.

“The present moment” he quoted Benedict XVI, “is sadly marked, not only by negative elements in the social and economic level, but also by a weakening of hope, by a lack of confidence in human relationships, so they show signs of resignation, aggression and despair.”

Continuing to quote the recent pope’s November 2009 speech to artists, he asked, “What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes on the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation if not beauty?”

The “experience of beauty” is an important and even primary factor “in our search for meaning and happiness” and the experience liberates and transfigures our lives.

From this emerges the “important and necessary task of artists,” Francis explained, “particularly those who are believers and allow themselves be enlightened by the beauty of the gospel of Christ.”

“To create works of art that bring us, in the language of beauty, a sign, a spark of hope and trust where people seem to give in to indifference and ugliness.”

Read how Father Dwight Longenecker brought beauty and the Gospel in his little corner of South Carolina.