In 2001, Sculptor Alejandro Marmo’s life came crashing down along with the Argentine economic crisis. Desperate and feeling hopeless with his situation, the young Argentinian lost his way and lived a vice-filled life until his friends intervened and connected him with a kindred soul—Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires who would later on become our beloved Pope Francis. “Thanks to that meeting, art saved my life, it gave me the imagination to get out of the situation in which I was in,” says Alejandro.
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Alejandro shares the same sentiment for the “culture of waste” with the Pope. The Holy Father is resolutely opposed to discarding the elderly, the sick, and those who are “not needed anymore. For his part—and art—Alejandro uses objects and materials that people usually get rid of, as he had learned to do from a young age while working in his father’s hardware store. The philosophy of the two is very similar—in fact, Pope Francis once said, “art must not discard anything or anybody. It’s like mercy.”
“I brought a project to the archbishop and he liked it,” recalls the sculptor. “He immediately supported me by accompanying me to the suburbs to foster dialogue. Because art is this—the culture of encounter.” Over time, the archbishop and the artist became friends, and when the former became Pope, he certainly did not forget the Argentine sculptor, who often visits him in Casa Santa Marta. “I do not feel special about it, it’s him that’s special,” Alejandro says. “And I’m not his friend, I’d be irresponsible to say something like that: he’s my shepherd. Before I knew him, I was already a believer, but his closeness gave me profound faith without which I could not do anything I do.”
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Alejandro and Pope Francis even have a project together: two sculptures that have their own place in the gardens of the Vatican Museums. Alejandro used the iron scraps of the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo, old shovels, pieces of the gates, and chains. The two sculptures represent the Cristo Operaio (Christ the Worker), and the Vergine di Lujan (the Virgin of Lujan).
On November 2014, Pope Francis blessed the two grand sculptures made by Alejandro with the assistance of Argentinian youths with drug issues—those excluded from society, says Alejandro. Their work is part of a project that Alejandro and Pope Francis are involved in, one that hopes to help young people depart from the “cultural outskirts” through the beauty of art and faith in God. With his plans of taking art to the margins of society, Alejandro has come full circle from being a lost outcast to a determined originator eager to share his talent and faith.