The facade of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy. / Credit: Marco Rubino/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Feb 14, 2024 / 09:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will become the first pope to visit the prestigious Venice Biennale art exhibition when he travels to the “city of canals” this spring.

The theme of this year’s 60th International Art Exhibition — one of the most important contemporary art events in the world — is on foreigners and marginalized people. It has also generated headlines this year because of what event organizers have described as a special emphasis on “queer” artists, though the Holy Father’s visit will focus primarily on the Vatican’s exhibition on human rights.

The Vatican announced on Tuesday that the pope will make the one-day trip to Venice on Sunday, April 28.

The Venice Biennale was founded in 1895. The Biennale takes place every year alternating between the Architecture Biennale and the Art Biennale. The 2024 Art Biennale will open to the public from April 20 to Nov. 24. The theme of this year’s art Biennale is “Foreigners Everywhere.”

The Holy See Pavilion will be located at the women’s prison on Venice’s Giudecca island. The exhibition, organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education, is titled “With My Eyes” and has human rights for marginalized populations as a central theme.

Artists Maurizio Cattelan, Bintou Dembélé, Simone Fattal, Claire Fontaine, Sonia Gomes, Corita Kent, Marco Perego, Zoe Saldana, Claire Tabouret, and Hans Ulrich Obrist will be featured in the Vatican pavilion.

The Vatican has participated in the Art Biennale since 2013. The first Holy See Pavilion, commissioned by Pope Benedict XVI, used the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis as its narrative thread.

Pope Francis’ one-day trip to Venice will also include a meeting with the local Catholic community and Patriarch Francesco Moraglia of Venice.

The last papal trip to Venice was in 2011 by Benedict XVI, who traveled across the Grand Canal in the same gondola as Pope John Paul II did in 1985.

Pope Francis does not have any international trips on his official schedule for 2024 but has said that he wants to visit Belgium, Argentina, and Polynesia.

The exhibition’s lead curator, Brazilian Adriano Pedrosa, who identifies as “the first openly queer curator [of the Biennale],” has said that the exhibition will showcase queer artists and Indigenous artists. The work on display will explore “differences and disparities” stemming from “race, sexuality, and wealth,” the curator said last month.