Illustrating Friendship with Jesus: An Interview with Ann Kissane Engelhart
We sat in the front row and after his catechesis the pope greeted all of the people in that row. When he came to us I explained the concept of the book while showing him the picture of the young Joseph Ratzinger at his own First Communion in his lovely Bavarian village. He gasped and laughed in recognition of himself as a child. He took my hand and said "Is this your work?!" I told him that we wanted many people to be able to hear his beautiful message about First Holy Communion. He seemed delighted and thanked me for my efforts and blessed us. He saw that my son was standing in the row behind my husband and me and gave him a special greeting. He really took his time with each of the people he met, giving them his full attention. It was an extraordinary moment for which we will always be grateful.
That's a delightful story—I feel like I was there with you! What are your thoughts on how art could be used to evangelize our culture?
Art has been an evangelizing tool from the very beginning. Even ancient cultures reserved their finest objects and architecture for the worship of God. The Catholic Church strongly rejected the iconoclastic tendencies of other faiths because it understood the power of images and beauty as an expression of faith and in their ability to convert hearts. Art, whether film, music, visual art, or architecture speaks a universal language that affects us on a deep, personal level.
We often bemoan the current state of Catholic art because we know that quality inspires, while mediocrity can actually have a negative effect on our spirit. Fortunately, there is a wonderful organization that has developed in response to Pope Benedict's Address to Artists in the Sistine Chapel two years ago. The Catholic Artist's Society holds beautiful events that enable artists in the New York area to meet and pray and receive inspiration and support from some impressive speakers. This and other similar grassroots organizations indicate that there is a desire to use our talents to evangelize and that there is reason for hope in this area!
What other projects are you working on? Do you have any plans to illustrate other books about the pope or Catholic themes?
I continue to do commissioned watercolor portraits, landscapes, still-life paintings, and general illustration. Amy and I just finished working on a book for the English publisher, Catholic Truth Society, called Be Saints: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI. It is based on the Holy Father's talk to Catholic School children during his trip to the United Kingdom last year. It will be available in January 2012. We have many other ideas for children's books with Catholic themes that we would like to work on together. Our faith, and particularly Pope Benedict's catechesis, are inexhaustible sources of inspiration!
Ann, thank you for talking with me, and I hope many people—particularly those with children preparing to make their First Holy Communions—will use your book as part of that preparation!