It wasn’t the type of gift you would normally think of for an 84-year-old Pope best known for conservative theology and critiques of secular culture. And indeed, as Benedict XVI moved through the exhibition of contemporary art that had been installed in his honor — one work for each of the 60 years he has been a priest — there were times when he looked more than a little bemused: pausing, say, in front of a flat blue canvas broken by a raised geometric pattern, or staring up at a metal etching of a face with a thin tree branch sprouting from between its eyes.

And yet, the Pope was clearly pleased with the project — the first incarnation of an effort he has championed to reconnect the Catholic Church with the world of art. It was a realm the Vatican once dominated, but one in which it has had little presence for more than a century. “Make the truth shine in your works — never separate artistic creation from truth and charity,” Benedict urged the assembled artists, who had joined him at the show’s opening in Rome in early July. They ranged from Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui to American painter Max Cole.

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