A Ukrainian girl fleeing war, two nuns on a motorcycle in Togo, young Brazilian women dancing in a favela: These are just a few of the portraits on display in St. Peter’s Square in Rome as part of the photographic exhibition “Women’s Cry” inaugurated on May 2, 2023.
Organized by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), in collaboration with the Dicastery for Communication, the exhibition seeks to give visibility to women from the world’s peripheries, whose portraits are accompanied by quotes from Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti.
Located under the left colonnade that borders St. Peter’s Square, this small exhibition will run for almost a month – until May 29. It features 26 photos taken around the world by 8 photographers. These photos are supposed to encourage in the visitor a “transformative synergy, with the horizon of human brotherhood,” explained Maria Lia Zervino, President General of WUCWO, during a press conference held in Rome.
The exhibition also responds to the impression that some women have “that the Church does not love them, that it does not stand beside them as Jesus did,” said Zervino, a consecrated virgin from Argentina, whom the Pope appointed to the Dicastery for Bishops last year.
These photographs show that “the Church today wants to embrace all the women of the world, believers and non-believers, and give them visibility, to transform and improve their lives,” she insisted.
The power of images to push for change
“The images that make up the exhibition “Women’s cry” have the strength, the power to force us to stop, to see. To amaze us and impart dynamism. They are not static. […] They set in motion something that does not stand still. And which is surely different for each visitor, for each gaze. […] They leave us speechless, but changed. Truly brothers and sisters all. Able to see with our hearts,” said Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.
“Looking at these photos – rereading the phrases of the Fratelli Tutti that accompany them – will help us rediscover how fragile we are, but how great. How we are different, but equal,” he added.
The Prefect recalled that in Fratelli Tutti (2020) Pope Francis stated that “doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights.” In the encyclical the Pontiff also underlined that contemporary societies are “far from reflecting” the fact that “women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men.”
The photographers: giving a voice to those women who persevere in adverse situations
With these photos we wanted “to give a voice to all the women who manage to live with courage and dignity in such difficult places,” said Sebastiano Rossitto, an Italian photographer who has multiple works featured in the exhibition. Originally from Italy, he has visited and photographed over 40 countries.
He explained that of his images featured, his favorite is the one that was used to illustrate the leaflet of the event. It shows an indigenous Togolese woman “letting out a cry, which is what the exhibit represents,” during a traditional dance.
Another of Rossitto’s photos shows a group of young girls from the group “Laudato Si’ Amazonia – O Espaço da Vida na Terra” (Laudato Sì Amazonia – The Space of Life on Earth) dancing in a “favela” (slum) in north-eastern Brazil. On May 24, this same group will come to Rome to perform their dance around the exhibit space and will attend Pope Francis’ general audience.
Women supporting other women
WUCWO, which is promoting this exhibit, focuses on highlighting the presence and participation of Catholic women in society and in the Church. Founded in 1910, it now represents about 100 organizations, with a total membership of nearly 8 million women.
Lia Giovanazzi Beltrami, curator of this event, had already organized another photographic exhibition in St. Peter’s Square in 2021 inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care of Creation, Laudato sì (2015).