The stamps feature images of the Annunciation as well as Mary holding baby Jesus, both of which were painted by inmate Marcello D’Agata, who’s serving a life sentence for mafia-related crimes.
D’Agata’s Annunciation painting depicts Mary looking up at the Archangel Gabriel, who’s holding a small bouquet of white lilies while looking back at her. Above Mary is a white dove—a symbol of the Holy Spirit—with light beams emanating from its wings. The other stamp depicts Mary after the Nativity with her hands holding baby Jesus. A red candle is lit while the star of Bethlehem radiates light from above.
“Those who are in prison are often abandoned and given less consideration, but they have always been close to the heart of Pope Francis, who has spoken numerous times about their situation,” reads a statement issued by the postal service late last month.
During his homily for midnight mass on Christmas Eve last year, Pope Francis mentioned prisoners.
“In the Child of Bethlehem, God comes to meet us and make us active sharers in the life around us. He offers himself to us, so that we can take him into our arms, lift him and embrace him,” he said. “So that in him we will not be afraid to take into our arms, raise up and embrace the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned.”
In recent years, the Vatican’s postal service has participated in philatelic initiatives taking place at the Opera prison, where a 12-person group of inmates gathers each week to sketch and paint in an art studio in the facility’s maximum-security wing.
Allowing a prisoner serving a life sentence to design the new stamps is “a sign of hope, trust and faith in one’s neighbour and in his ability to understand the evil that was committed and to rehabilitate,” Mauro Olivieri, head of the Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera last week.
Prisoners “are precisely the least of the least who, according to Jesus’ teaching, deserve our attention the most,” he added.