Street Art Depicting Pope Francis Highlights Homeless Struggle in Milan

A man sits by a pop art graffiti titled “Caritas,” which depicts Pope Francis begging, by aleXsandro Palombo, in Milan. Photo courtesy of aleXsandro Palombo

VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Pop art graffiti depicting Pope Francis as homeless and a begging Madonna and Child, made by the subversive artist aleXsandro Palombo, appeared in the northern Italian city of Milan last week.

“The coronavirus aggravated social inequalities and caused an alarming increase in poverty,” Palombo, an artist and activist for 25 years whose works are showcased in museums worldwide, told Religion News Service. Milan, in northern Italy, was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic starting in February.

“The health pandemic has become a social pandemic,” he added.

The two works, titled “Caritas” (the Latin word for Charity), represent Pope Francis and the Virgin Mary in different settings begging for money with a crumpled Coca-Cola cup. The artist said his inspiration stemmed from seeing many people in Milan being forced to live on the streets due to the economic consequences of the pandemic. Over 1.5 million people are registered as unemployed in Italy, according to the Italian statistics agency Istat.

Pop art graffiti titled “Caritas,” which
depicts the Virgin Mary and child
begging, by aleXsandro Palombo, in
Milan. Photo courtesy of aleXsandro

“I couldn’t remain indifferent in the face of this social disaster,” Palombo said.

With a message centered on concern for the poor and mercy, Pope Francis made for the perfect symbol for street art, Palombo said.

“He is a pope who is close to the people, and the street is the best place to communicate and be with the people,” he added, stating that Francis is charged with the difficult task of addressing the Christian message to today’s “hedonistic” and “self-centered” society.

According to the artist, “poverty in the world is spreading much quicker than the coronavirus,” and strong and decisive action is required to fight social inequality and avoid “injustice and social revolts.”

Palombo’s aunt was a mother superior at a convent in southern Italy, where the artist spent a lot of time as a child. Even though he is not a practicing Catholic today, his experiences at the convent “deeply influenced” his life and he said he identifies with Pope Francis’ call to “simplicity and condemnation of waste.”

He came up with the idea of the works during the lockdown in Italy (which began on March 9) and immediately got to work on them once the country entered phase two, allowing citizens to leave their homes.

Palombo chose to place his art in areas where he knew many homeless live in Milan.

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Source: Religion News Service