Penitentiary Inmate Serving Life Sentence Designs Vatican’s 2018 Christmas Stamps

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Archbishop Delpini with Mauro Olivieri (at left) and Silvio De Gregorio; at right the paintings by Marcello D’Agata [photo Church of Milan].

By Danilo Bogoni

They are pictures “pouring from the heart,” says an emotional 70 year-old Marcello D’Agata, who for the last 25 years has been serving a life sentence at the Opera Penitentiary near Milan. In the process Marcello has nurtured his unexpected creative talent as a painter. Two of his paintings have now been adopted for the 2018 Christmas stamps issued by the Vatican on 9 November; their mission is to convey a global message of joy, peace and brotherhood.

“Through my paintings I can finally convey a positive message to humanity. It is not too long ago that I started painting, but it has picked up speed like a crescendo; painting has captured my senses as a whole and when I paint I feel as if I am looking at myself in a mirror,” says Marcello, adding “my paintings reflect my emotions and allow me to convey and free my inner feelings beyond the barriers that for over a quarter century had remained in solitary confinement.”

Three hands for first day of issue pictorial postmark: from left, Mauro Olivieri (Vatican Philatelic Bureau Executive), Archbishop of Milan Mario Delpini, and Penitentiary Director Silvio De Gregorio.

“We have decided to give Marcello D’Agata, a talented painter serving a life sentence, the opportunity to paint the “Annunciation” and the “Nativity” for two Christmas stamps (€1.10 and €1.15 respectively) and hosting their launch at the place where these works were created, the Penitentiary of Opera. These stamps are printed in sheets of ten and they are also offered in a booklet format with two stamps of each denomination as a mini-sheet. The first day of issue postmarks include the traditional one used by the Vatican Posts and that used today at the penitentiary: the former depicting two church candles from Marcello’s painting, the latter featuring St. Joseph Cafasso, the Saint patron of jails, while assisting an inmate,” says Mauro Olivieri, executive director of the Philatelic and Numismatic Bureau of the Vatican. He adds that “it is a sign of hope, trust and faith in our neighbours and in their ability to understand the wrong they did and to recover from it.” On the same wavelength is Silvio De Gregorio, director of the Opera Penitentiary, who speaks of hope for “real, effective and final rehabilitation” that can be achieved within the penitentiary.

The unprecedented event coinciding with the day of issue of the stamps saw the attendance of the Archbishop of Milan, Monsignor Mario Delpini who commented: “It appears to me that these stamps and all of their background are a way to pay a tribute to artistic talent, because art is not limited to certain environments: art is where the artist is. Therefore even in jails there are artists who  can create commendable works of art as good as those from an artist’s studio or workshop…[in fact]art goes beyond ‘within’ and ‘without’…and [as a result]is an invitation to a level of contemplation of beauty and communicational ability that rehabilitate people.”

Archbishop Delpini revealed that as a youngster he collected stamps by soaking them from covers and cards: “the most welcome ones were those from abroad because they were more interesting…indeed I cultivated the stamp collecting hobby as a means of exploring the world.”

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