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Your images are “messages of life,” Pope tells photojournalists

Pope Francis in a private audience with Vatican photographers

© Vatican Media

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 01/05/24

Vatican photojournalists gave the Pope a photobook with 50 images they have taken throughout his pontificate, including one by Aleteia’s Antoine Mekary.
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“We are invisible; we only become visible through the photos we take.” This is how Antoine Mekary, Aleteia’s Rome-based photographer, describes the job of being a Vatican photojournalist.

Rain or shine, snow or scalding heat, photojournalists representing media outlets from around the world are always ready to document Pope Francis’ public appearances, their camera lenses artfully aimed at him. On December 29, 2023, Pope Francis met the Vatican photojournalists in a private audience at the Apostolic Palace and they gifted him a photobook containing around 50 photos they have taken throughout his pontificate, including one by Mekary. 

Pope Francis leaves during a heavy storm after his weekly general audience
Pope Francis leaves during a heavy storm after his weekly general audience in St Peter’s square on August 31, 2016, at the Vatican.

“You all, with photographs, give messages. Messages not of the word, but of life,” Pope Francis told those present, as reported by Italian Catholic press agency SIR. “Keep it up, free, always free. Don’t go looking for the things that will be most successful, but for life. Convey life as it is. This is your art, a very great art.” 

The Pope explained that he at times prays before an image taken by a photojournalist, whose identity he did not remember, depicting a poor woman on the sidewalk begging for money, while a rich woman with a fur coat looks the other way. “This image, made by one of you, accompanies my prayers. […] To take a moment in life, like this one I am telling you, is to take something that will do good,” the Pontiff said, asking as always for his audience to pray for him. “For, not against,” Francis joked.

Pope Francis in a private audience with Vatican photographers

A collection of photographs from the last 10 years

The photobook, titled “I Fotografi Vaticanisti per Papa Francesco” (Vatican Photographers for Pope Francis), which the photojournalists gifted Pope Francis contains all types of images, each captured by a different photographer accredited to the Holy See Press Office. Although Mekary was unable to be present at the December 29 meeting, the book contains one of his photos, which shows Pope Francis blessing a woman during a general audience in St. Peter’s Square in April 2019 (below).

Pope Francis blesses a woman kneeling before him at the end of the weekly general audience
Pope Francis blesses a woman kneeling before him at the end of the weekly general audience on April 3, 2019, at St. Peter’s square in the Vatican.

Eyes shut tightly in concentration, Pope Francis is seen with his hand on the woman’s forehead as tears roll down her cheeks and her hands are clasped at her chest. Mekary explained the woman had asked to be blessed and the Pope approached her and gave his blessing, before hopping back into the popemobile to drive around St. Peter’s Square.

I like to capture the moment. I like to stop that particular instant where one can see emotion: a smile or a cry or a tear of joy, and the reflection of these emotions on the face of the Holy Father,” Mekary said. The photojournalist is from Lebanon but has been photographing the Vatican for Aleteia since 2014. “I especially like to do this job for the beauty of the Christian faith and of the Church, because in some way I try to evangelize through photos. […] We can make the Catholic faith reach all over the world.”

Capturing the world around you

“The beauty of being a photojournalist-Vatican correspondent is that you get to see people of all ages: newborns, infants, children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly,” said Mekary. There are “an incredible variety of individuals from various regions of the world, all coming together to meet the Pope to get blessed by him.”

“You meet cardinals, bishops, celebrities, members of armed forces, schools, choirs, scout groups, ordinary people — everyone is moved when seeing the Pope, and everyone is wanting
to touch and embrace him. There are people praying in the square in silence, others singing
and shouting ‘Papa Francesco.'”

Although Mekary was unable to attend the private meeting with the other photojournalists, he was given the opportunity to greet the Pope briefly at the margins of the next general audience, on January 3, 2024. Mekary presented the Pope with three other photos that he blessed: two of the Pontiff and one of Mekary’s eldest child being baptized by Francis in 2017. 


“It was an exciting moment, even if brief,” Mekary said.

ArtPope FrancisVatican
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