04/28/2024, 16.36
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In Venice pope tells artists to imagine cities where no one is a stranger

During the historic visit to the city on the lagoon, the pontiff met with 80 inmates at the Giudecca Women's Prison, “a harsh reality, but a place of moral and material rebirth.” At the Holy See's pavillion for the 2024 Biennale “With My Eyes”, Francis addressed the artists, stressing the “contribution of women”. He also said: “There is joy and suffering that come together in a unique form in women.”

Venice (AsiaNews) – “The world needs artists,” said Pope Francis this morning on the island of Giudecca, the first stop in his historic visit to the city of Venice.

The pontiff met with artists in the Chiesa della Maddalena (Church of the Magdalene), the chapel of the Venice-Giudecca Women's Prison, which hosts the Holy See Pavilion at the 2024 Biennale titled Con i miei occhi (With my eyes), where he also met with 80 inmates.

“Art has the status of a place of refuge, a city that disobeys the regime of violence and discrimination to create forms of human belonging,” Francis said. “Artistic practices work together to “rid the world of senseless antinomies” that impose themselves through racism, xenophobia, inequality, and aporophobia.

“I must admit to you that I do not feel like a stranger next to you: I feel at home," the Argentine pope said, addressing the artists.  To counter antinomies, behind which "there is always the rejection of the other", he urged them to “Imagine cities that don't yet exist on the map, cities where no human being is considered an outsider."

Starting from this, the Holy Father began reflecting upon the main theme of the pavilion, namely the need of all individuals to "be looked at and to dare to look at ourselves.”

Jesus is the Master of this gaze. "He looks at everyone with the intensity of the kind of love that does not judge," he explained. “Art educates us to this kind of gaze.” For Pope Francis, this way of looking is “contemplative”.

“Artists are in the world, but are called to go beyond," he noted, warning the creators of art against the risk of confusing the latter with the market. The danger is that the market will “vampirise creativity, steal innocence, and, finally, coldly instruct what to do," despite its recognised role of promoting and canonising.

Francis spoke about the symbolic significance of the place that houses the pavilion “With my eyes”, the Venice Women’s Prison, one of Italy’s four detention facilities for women.

He arrived this morning around 8 am in a helicopter after taking off from the Vatican heliport at 6:32 am. He was welcomed by, among others, the Patriarch of Venice, Mgr Francesco Moraglia.

“There is joy and suffering that come together in a unique form in women, that we have to listen to, because they have something important to teach us," he said, citing some famous women artists like Frida Khalo, Corita Kent, and Louise Bourgeois.

This can provide hope that contemporary art will help, by broadening the gaze, to "adequately enhance the contribution of women, as co-protagonists of the human adventure.”

Finally, the pontiff called on artists to keep in their hearts a question that "pushes towards the future", i.e. “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see?” (Mt 11:7-8).

Earlier, Pope Francis spoke to 80 inmates in the Giudecca Prison. “You have a special place in my heart,” he said, hoping that the meeting would allow them to “give each other time, prayer, closeness and fraternal affection” rather than be experienced as an “official visit”.

“Prison is a harsh reality, but it can also become a place of moral and material rebirth,” he explained. On other occasions, the pontiff spoke about the problem of overcrowding and violence in prisons.

According to Francis, time spent in a prison can prove precious, especially because it can be “the start of something new through the rediscovery of unsuspected beauties in ourselves and in others”. This is visible in the artistic exhibit hosted in the prison.

Staying here "can become like a site for reconstruction, to look at and evaluate one's own life with courage."

The Bishop of Rome also issued an appeal that "the prison system offer prisoners tools and room for human, spiritual, cultural, and professional growth”, so that works in favour of prisoners may contribute not to "isolating one’s dignity", but to give one “new possibilities”.

After the meetings on the island of Giudecca, the Holy Father went to the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health) to meet 1,600 young people from northeastern Italy.

This was followed by a drive across a pontoon bridge over the Grand Canal to St Mark's Square, where he led Holy Mass at 11 am, followed by the recitation of the Regina Coeli in front of the Basilica.

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