Pope Francis embarks on first journey beyond Rome in seven months

Pope Francis embarked on his first trip outside of Rome in seven months on Sunday, paying a visit to Venice. During his visit, the Pope engaged in a variety of activities, including attending an art exhibition, visiting a prison, and leading a Mass.

Venice has forever been a city of contradictions, where stunning beauty coexists with delicate vulnerability. Over the centuries, it has witnessed the collision of history, religion, art, and nature, resulting in a mesmerizing urban gem. Despite its reputation for extraordinary encounters, Pope Francis’ visit on Sunday was truly remarkable.

Francis embarked on a journey to the lagoon city with the purpose of exploring the Holy See’s pavilion at the Biennale contemporary art show and engaging with the individuals behind its creation. However, the decision by the Vatican to showcase their exhibit in Venice’s women’s prison, and their invitation for inmates to collaborate with the artists, added an extra layer of depth to the project. This choice resonated with Francis’ conviction in the transformative potential of art to inspire and bring people together, while also highlighting the importance of providing hope and solidarity to those who are often overlooked in society.

He started his journey at the courtyard of the Giudecca prison, where he individually met with the women inmates.

In an unexpected twist, Francis expressed that a period of confinement can actually serve as a catalyst for change. He emphasized the notion of discovering beauty within ourselves and others, citing the artistic event being hosted and the active contributions made to the project.

In the prison chapel, adorned with an installation by Brazilian visual artist Sonia Gomes, the 87-year-old pontiff engaged with Biennale artists. The captivating display featured objects suspended from the ceiling, inviting viewers to look upwards.

The Giudecca prison, formerly a convent for reformed prostitutes, has been transformed into a captivating attraction at this year’s Biennale. Despite the need for advance reservations and security checks, visitors flock to the Vatican exhibit to witness this extraordinary display. Upon entering, they are greeted by Maurizio Cattelan’s wall mural featuring enormous, grimy feet. This artwork evokes Caravaggio’s depiction of dirty feet and the Holy Thursday ritual performed by Pope Francis, where he humbly washes prisoners’ feet each year.

The exhibit features a captivating short film that showcases the inmates alongside Zoe Saldana. Additionally, visitors can admire prints created by Corita Kent, a former Catholic nun and esteemed American social activist, which are displayed in the prison coffee shop.

Francis, at 87 years old, rarely ventures out due to health and mobility issues, preventing him from making any foreign trips this year. However, he made a remarkable morning visit that concluded with Mass in St. Mark’s Square.

“Venice, a city known for its historical role as a hub of cultural exchange, holds the responsibility of being a symbol of beauty accessible to everyone,” stated Francis. He emphasized the importance of starting with those who have the least, as a way to demonstrate fraternity and the care we should have for our shared environment.”

During a meeting with young individuals at the famous Santa Maria della Salute basilica, Pope Francis acknowledged the wonder of Venice, praising its captivating beauty and its rich history as a meeting point between the East and the West. However, he also expressed concern about the city’s vulnerability to climate change and the declining population.

“Venice and its existence are intertwined with the waters it occupies,” Francis emphasized. “Without the diligent protection and preservation of this precious natural environment, the very survival of the city could be at stake.”

The exhibit features tour guides who also serve as protagonists in some of the artworks.

In preparation for his journey, Francis had a one-hour interview with Norah O’Donnell, the anchor and managing editor of “CBS Evening News,” at his residence in Rome.

During the interview, Francis passionately appealed for global peace amidst the relentless conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

“Please, let all countries engaged in war cease their hostilities and seek peaceful negotiations,” urged the Pope, as he conveyed his message through a translator.

For those who feel like they no longer belong in the Catholic Church, he had a message.

“I firmly believe that there is always a place for everyone, always. If you find that the priest in your parish doesn’t seem welcoming, I completely understand. But I encourage you to look elsewhere because there is always a place for you,” he emphasized. “Please don’t feel the need to run away from the Church. The Church is expansive and encompasses so much more than just a temple. You should never feel like you have to distance yourself from her.”

According to Reuters, the pope’s visit to Venice marked the beginning of a series of four planned trips within Italy over the next three months. The upcoming destinations include Verona in May, Trieste in July, and the anticipated attendance at the Group of Seven (G7) leaders’ summit in Bari in June.

Pope Francis is scheduled to undertake a significant international journey in September, which will be his longest foreign trip since becoming Pope. The countries on his itinerary include Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Singapore.

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