VATICAN CITY (CNS) — By supporting the preservation, restoration and exhibition of art, especially religious art, the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums share beauty that can touch all people and build bridges between them, Pope Francis said.

The pope met Nov. 9 with about 300 members of the patrons’ group — which started in the United States and continues to have a majority of its members in North America — as they celebrated the organization’s 40th anniversary.

The Vatican Museums’ holdings “reflect the immense diversity of cultures, traditions and creative expressions that enrich our world,” the pope said, and the patrons are committed to ensuring they “continue to inspire, elevate, and reveal the deepest hopes and aspirations of the human heart.”

“Art, and religious art in particular, can bring a message of mercy, compassion and encouragement not only to believers, but also to those who doubt, who feel lost, unsure or possibly alone,” the pope said, because it “speaks to the soul.”

Art, he said, “has the power to foster a recognition of our common humanity, to build bridges between cultures and peoples, and to create that sense of solidarity so greatly needed in our sadly divided and war-torn world.”

“Art refreshes the human spirit, just as water replenishes the dry and parched desert,” the pope said.

While patrons belong to different churches and religions, Pope Francis said their commitment to the Vatican Museums is “a concrete sign of your appreciation of the potential of the arts, in their many forms, to open minds and hearts to the beauty of God’s creation and the richness and mystery of our human life and calling.”

Through their support of the museums and sponsoring specific restoration projects, the patrons preserve the art but also make sure future generations will have a chance to reflect on “the profound interplay between art, history, culture and faith.”

The 40th anniversary celebration Nov. 6-10 included an evening meeting with the curators of the Vatican Museums; a visit to the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo, which is now part of the Vatican Museums; Masses; the papal audience; and a concert in the Sistine Chapel.