On October 28th, 1985, Pope John Paul II received in audience organizers of and participants in the international philatelic exhibition ITALIA’85, which was then in session in Rome. The Rev. Augustine Serafini, editor of the COROS Chronicle, journal of the Collectors of Religion on Stamps, provided an English translation of the Pope’s remarks, as they were reported in L’Osservatore Romano at the time.

by Pope John Paul II

Your interest is directed to an exceptional expression of art, that of the postage stamp, which is in itself an eloquent and significant form of universal language. The stamp, in fact, does not limit itself to functional objects, but tends to the superlative expression of figurative beauty. What is more, it assumes particular cultural interest when it reproduces and illustrates monuments, famous works, subjects from the world of nature; or when it commemorates historical events and personages, whether of universal culture or of the various national heritages.

Stamp collecting thus becomes, in its own particularly expressive form, an occasion for effective information, of education and dialogue. How many messages beneficial to the common good, to the interests of the community, or how much useful information can be sent every day to all parts of the world by a simple stamp, or by the design and by the concise and effective phrase on a special commemorative seal! One may well submit that an important mission of peace is implied in this simple and unassuming instrument of communication connected with the daily use of the postal service.

I welcome the occasion to express my sincere good wishes that the continued contribution of the philatelic community might contribute to the building of that knowledge, friendship, and accord to which the common and universal desire for concord and peace aspires.

Your activity as philatelists involves naturally an aspect of chosen leisure, with all that entails in terms of dedicated interest, attention, knowledge, and also economic influences. You understand that it is not my task to dwell on this aspect.

The primary object of your attention consists in all that makes of writing, from the most personal to the most official, a message entrusted to a public postal service. Do we not have a kind of symbol in the very fact that the letter is, as it were, completed by a seal or a stamp which shows the place and country from which it has been sent? When a person communicates with another, his message is, in a sense, integrated into the immense network of human relationship by the public service that not only inscribes the place and the date on the document, but affixes as well, with the stamp, an illustration, that in some way expresses the spirit of a nation.

Beginning with this very simple observation, one readily recognizes the richness of the points of view that inspire philatelists: to collect and examine the innumerable forms that postage stamps assume over the years amounts to viewing the many aspects of the life and memory of the various nations and their inter-relationships. Stamps recall the movements of history, past or contemporary; they bring to light distinguished persons of each nation; they make present in a vivid way events singled out of celebration; they portray symbolically the representative elements of the natural, artistic, scientific, cultural heritage, where human societies recognize the best of themselves. And you are well aware of the fact that religious convictions often leave their mark on history, civilization, or art, and produce outstanding personalities. These are very fittingly portrayed on the stamps of numerous countries.

To you who are informed regarding all the rich nesses that philately implies, and who make it possible for your many friends and for young people to discover them, I express the sincere wish that you be able to help those who share your interest to become aware of all that the object of their collecting interest represents, to enlarge their outlook on the multiple significance of interpersonal exchanges, the impression that each country gives of itself, a history always in process of formation and fundamental human values. May you thus be builders of brotherhood and of peace!

(The American Philatelist, December 1986/1138)