A ‘beggar Pope’ has appeared on Milan streets in a call for COVID-19 “generosity and solidarity”.

– A warning of the “pandemic of poverty”

At first glance, the graffiti that popped up Thursday in Milan, the capital of the northern Lombard region – the area in Italy hardest-hit by the coronavirus – is shocking.

In the images, Pope Francis is begging for alms lying on a cardboard mattress with his signature black suitcase as a pillow.

His white cassock is in tatters, being eaten by a rat, and in front of him is a red cup with the word “charity” stuffed full of banknotes.

But artist AleXsandro Palombo – who is also behind more graffiti that emerged yesterday, of a Virgin and Child begging – said his new works are not to be designed to be irreverent.

Instead, Palombo said that his new art is about warning of the “pandemic of poverty” Italy and the world are falling into as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

“This serious crisis offers us the possibility of redesigning society to make it more humane”, Palombo said in a statement.

“Today, more than ever, we need to be aware of the needs of others, of those who are going through or are about to go through a moment of extreme need”, the artist added.

“Each one of us can make a difference by helping the most fragile families, and all those who have now fallen into poverty. This is the time to understand that the future is about generosity and solidarity”.

– 3.7 million Italians now in poverty

During these months of the coronavirus pandemic, Palombo has also drawn caricatures of famous cartoon characters from TV shows The Simpsons or Family Guy, amongst others, encouraging people to stay at home to stop COVID-19.

The 46-year-old has also produced photo montages of a COVID-19-sick Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro – to denounce political hypocrisy over the pandemic – and of famous actresses with scars and bruises to warn of the increase in domestic violence during lockdowns.

Palombo’s latest campaign with a homeless Pope is also timely, as more than 30,000 Italians have now died from the coronavirus and another million have been forced onto the breadline by the pandemic, bringing the total number of Italians in poverty to some 3.7 million.

– The Pope’s concern for the poor, the homeless and families

Pope Francis has repeatedly appeared in graffiti throughout Italy, having been depicted as everything from Superman or a window-cleaner to a tic-tac-toe-playing peace activist.

The pontiff has also been drawn as the romantic partner of US President Donald Trump, or as a defender of the rights of children, with a young boy on his shoulders painting the words “Stop Abuse”.

On a more serious note, however, the Pope has repeatedly voiced his concerns during lockdown about the economic and social problems that will come after the coronavirus health crisis.

Among other gestures, he used his platform in the daily Santa Marta Mass to denounce the effects of the recession on the poor, the homeless and families, and has also put into place a special Vatican COVID-19 Commission to prepare for the looming recession.

More on Novena on the Pope’s concern for the ‘day after’ COVID-19:

COVID-19: Pope invites world “to open eyes, ears and hands ever wider to those who suffer from hunger, injustice and violence”

14/5: Santa Marta Mass: Francis prays for end to coronavirus, “terrible pandemics” of hunger, war, uneducated children

11/5: Santa Marta Mass: Pope laments reality of COVID-19 jobless, “illegally” employed

23/4: Santa Marta Mass: Pope denounces money-lenders profiting from hunger of families during COVID-19

Prophetic: Pope rages against “economic power”, “idolatry” of money; proposes universal basic wage

6/4: Powerful: Pope, in Santa Marta Mass: “If I ignore the poor, the Lord will ignore me on the Day of Judgment” – full text


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.