In Venice, Pope Meets Inmates Behind Hit Art Exhibit

Francis calls for imparting hope to the marginalized
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 28, 2024 11:20 AM CDT
In Venice, Pope Meets Inmates Behind Hit Art Exhibit
Pope Francis arrives in St. Mark's Square to celebrate a mass in Venice on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Pope Francis traveled to Venice on Sunday to visit the Holy See's pavilion at the Biennale contemporary art show and meet with the people who created it. But because the Vatican decided to mount its exhibit in Venice's women's prison and invited inmates to collaborate with the artists, the project assumed a far more complex meaning, touching on Francis' belief in the power of art to uplift and unite, and of the need to give hope and solidarity to society's most marginalized. The pope hit on both messages during his visit, which began in the courtyard of the Giudecca prison where he met with female inmates one by one, the AP reports. As some of them wept, Francis urged them to use their time in prison as a chance for "moral and material rebirth."

"Paradoxically, a stay in prison can mark the beginning of something new, through the rediscovery of the unsuspected beauty in us and in others, as symbolized by the artistic event you are hosting and the project to which you actively contribute," Francis said. He then met with Biennale artists in the prison chapel, decorated with an installation by Brazilian visual artist Sonia Gomes of objects dangling from the ceiling, meant to draw the viewer's gaze upward. He urged the artists to embrace the Biennale's theme this year, "Strangers Everywhere," to show solidarity with those on the margins, per the AP.

The exhibit has turned the Giudecca prison, a former convent for reformed prostitutes, into a must-see attraction. Visitors are greeted with Maurizio Cattelan's wall mural of two giant filthy feet, a work that recalls Caravaggio's dirty feet or the feet of prisoners that Francis washes each year on Holy Thursday. The exhibit includes a film starring the inmates and Zoe Saldana, and prints in the prison coffee shop by onetime Catholic nun and American social activist Corita Kent. Speaking with young people at the iconic Santa Maria della Salute basilica, Francis admired Venice's "enchanting beauty" but warned that it is increasingly vulnerable to climate change and depopulation. "Venice is at one with the waters upon which it sits," he said. "Without the care and safeguarding of this natural environment, it might even cease to exist."

(More Pope Francis stories.)

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