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Vatican withdraws stamp dedicated to WYD after criticism 

A stamp issued by the Vatican postal and philatelic service in light of the 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon

Courtesy of Vatican postal and philatelic service

Courtesy of Vatican postal and philatelic service

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 05/19/23

The stamp dedicated to the next World Youth Day in Lisbon was criticized for evoking Portugal's colonial past and nationalist dictatorship.

The Vatican withdrew a stamp dedicated to the next World Youth Day just a couple days after it was issued, due to controversies and criticism surrounding the design, reported Vatican News on May 18, 2023. The stamp, dedicated to the World Youth Day that will be held in Lisbon from August 1 to 6, was issued on May 16 and was criticized for highlighting Portugal’s colonial and dictatorial past. 

The stamp, designed by Italian illustrator Stefano Morri, shows Pope Francis leading a group of young people up the “Monument of Discoveries” (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), which is a large sculpture of a sailboat situated near the river Tagus that runs through Lisbon. The monument was built in 1960 and celebrates the Portuguese age of discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries, as it shows Prince Henry the Navigator leading various explorers.

The design was supposed to represent Pope Francis leading young people to “the discovery of ‘this change of epoch,’” a statement issued by the Vatican’s postal and philatelic service had explained. 

A stamp in “bad taste”

However, several Portuguese figures criticized the work saying it highlighted the country’s colonialist past and reminded of graphics and illustrations produced during the nationalistic dictatorship, which ruled Portugal throughout the mid-20th century. 

The stamp is in “terribly bad taste,” Bishop Carlos Moreira Azevedo, delegate of the Pontifical Committee for the Historical Sciences, told the Portuguese dailyDiario de Noticias. “Certainly Pope Francis does not identify with this nationalistic image” that “contradicts universal fraternity,” the bishop said. He added that the stamp “uses a very connoted work” and “epically evokes a pastoral reality that does not correspond with this spirit.”

The reaction of the WYD Lisbon Foundation

In reaction to the criticisms, Rosa Pedroso Lima, spokesperson for the WYD Lisbon 2023 Foundation, explained that the illustration of the stamp is “an image of the Pope on a Lisbon monument, symbolizing, in a kind of allegory, St. Peter’s boat and the Pope leading young people and the Church into a new era.”

“There will always be several readings of whatever is in a work of art, be it a stamp or an illustration. This is the reading that the Vatican does and the objective is to promote World Youth Day.”

“Other readings and other objectives are abusive in relation to the intentions expressed by the Vatican,” Lima said, stressing that “Pope Francis is a pope committed to respect, to breaking down walls, to widening borders, to the communication of peoples, cultures and religions, and that is the Pope’s fundamental message. It always has been, will continue to be, and will be on World Youth Day.”

The stamp was supposed to cost 3.10 euros (around $3.41) and 45,000 copies were to be printed. 

PortugalVaticanWorld Youth Day
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