Pope Francis visits Venice outside Rome for the first time in seven months

Pope Francis made his first trip from Rome in seven months on Sunday with a visit to Venice that included an art exhibition, a stop at a prison and a mass.

Venice has always been a place of contrasts, of breathtaking beauty and devastating fragility, where history, religion, art and nature have come together over the centuries to create an otherworldly jewel of a city. But even for a place that prides itself on its culture of unusual encounters, Francis' visit on Sunday stood out.

Francis traveled to the lagoon city to visit the Holy See's pavilion at the Biennale of Contemporary Art and meet the people who created the pavilion. But because the Vatican decided to stage its exhibition in Venice's women's prison and invited prisoners to collaborate with the artists, the entire project took on a much 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 the most marginalized in society.

Italy Pope
Pope Francis prays at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy, Sunday, April 28, 2024. The Pope arrived for his first-ever visit to the lagoon city, including the Vatican Pavilion, at the 60th Biennale of the Arts.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP


His journey began in the courtyard of the Giudecca prison, where he met female prisoners one by one.

“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 organize and the project to which you actively contribute,” Francis told them . .

The 87-year-old Pope 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, intended to draw the viewer's gaze upward.

The Vatican exhibition has turned the Giudecca Prison, a former convent for reformed prostitutes, into one of the must-see attractions of this year's Biennale, even though visitors must book in advance and pass a security check. It has become a special art world darling, greeting visitors at the entrance with Maurizio Cattelan's mural two gigantic filthy feeta work reminiscent of Caravaggio's dirty feet or the feet that Francis washes every year during a Maundy Thursday ritual that he routinely performs on prisoners.

The exhibition also includes a short film starring the prisoners and Zoe Saldana, and prints in the prison coffee shop of former Catholic nun and American social activist Corita Kent.

APTOPIX Italy Pope
Pope Francis is greeted by gondoliers upon his arrival in Venice, Italy, Sunday, April 28, 2024. The Pope arrived for his first-ever visit to the lagoon city, including the Vatican Pavilion at the 60th Biennale of the Arts.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP


Francis' dazzling morning visit, which ended with Mass in St. Mark's Square, marked an increasingly rare outing for the 87-year-old pontiff, who has been hampered by health and mobility problems that have ruled out foreign travel so far this year. .

“Venice, which has always been a place of encounter and cultural exchange, is called to be a sign of beauty available to all,” Francis said. “Starting with the least: a sign of brotherhood and care for our common home.”

Italy Pope
Pope Francis delivers his message as he meets young people in front of the Church of the Greetings in Venice, Italy, Sunday, April 28, 2024. The Pope arrived for his first-ever visit to the lagoon city, including the Vatican Pavilion at the 60th Biennale of Arts.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP


Meeting with young people at the iconic Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, Francis recognized the wonder that is Venice, admiring its “enchanting beauty” and tradition as a place of East-West meeting, but warning that it is increasingly vulnerable for climate change. and depopulation.

“Venice is one with the waters on which it lies,” Francis said. “Without the care and protection of this natural environment, it could even cease to exist.”

in the exhibition as tour guides and as protagonists in some works of art.

Ahead of his trip, Francis spoke with “CBS Evening News” anchor and editor-in-chief Norah O'Donnell during an hour-long interview at the boarding house where he lives in Rome.

During the interview, Francis advocated for peace worldwide amid the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Russia Gaza.

“Please. Countries at war, everyone, stop the war. Try to negotiate. Seek peace,” the pope said through an interpreter.

Pope Francis with CBS News host Norah O'Donnell
Pope Francis speaks with anchor and editor-in-chief of CBS Evening News Norah O'Donnell, April 24, 2024.

CBS News


He also had a message for those who no longer see a place for themselves in the Catholic Church.

“I would say there's always a place, always. If the priest in this parish doesn't seem welcoming, I understand, but look elsewhere, there's always a place,” he said. “Don't run away from the church. The church is very big. It's more than a temple… you shouldn't run away from her.'

The pope's visit to Venice was the first of four planned in Italy over the next three months, Reuters reported. He will visit Verona in May and Trieste in July, and is expected to attend the Group of Seven (G7) leaders' summit in Bari in June.

In September he will also embark on the longest foreign tour of his papacy, to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore.

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An extended version of O'Donnell's interview with Pope Francis will air on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, May 19 at 7pm ET. On Monday, May 20, CBS will air a one-hour primetime special dedicated to the papal interview at 10:00 PM ET on the CBS Television Network and streaming on Biggest+. Additionally, CBS News and Stations will distribute O'Donnell's interview on various platforms.

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