The project spans a two year-long journey, from 2010 to 2012, in Albania, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, the Ivory Coast, Italy, Israel, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the Vatican City State, across a range of meetings of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), who coordinates all roman catholic bishops’ conferences in Europe. Despite the huge media coverage on the recent scandals of the Roman curia, the purpose of my work was to draw a portrait of these men belonging to an institution, self-proclaimed as the official representative of God, that has always gripped the collective imagination. I focused on some aspects of the lives of these high dignitaries of the Church, capturing their engagement within the CCEE, their journeys from one country to the other, their activities in sacristies and official meetings, taking part in conferences and sightseeing tours, always sealed by a convivial banquet.
Since I grew up in Rome, my eyes became accustomed to the massive presence of priests and religious people of any kind orbiting around the core of the Roman Catholic Church. Their presence is a constituent part of the cityscape and for a long time I just did not mind them.
During the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church experienced one of its worst crisis, leading to a dramatic level of mutual incomprehension with modern society. This escalation urged me to investigate on this subject, deepening my knowledge through photography. My photographic research was also a way to interrogate myself on my position towards Religion.
It took me several months to convince the CCEE staff to allow me to follow its work. The climate of paroxysm, at the time, made people suspicious about my intentions, perhaps fearing that, somehow, I could strain the image of this institution further. Apparently the fact that I was just trying to fulfil my curiosity sounded awkward to them. After a while, I was able to convince them that I had no hidden purposes and that I was only interested in observing the daily life of a bishop at work.
Still, the most frequent question I was asked during the dozen of journeys along with the delegation of bishops was: “Which diocese do you belong to?” My face was already looking familiar to them, but they still could not understand who this outsider was. The feeling of being part of a community is deeply rooted within these circles and my presence has always been a surprise for those I met.
As a matter of fact during these two and a half years of work within the CCEE, I dealt with extremely cultivated and open-minded, but yet very normal people, doing common things such as chatting, eating, travelling and touring to new places (or rather being shunted from one place to the other). Sometimes I had the feeling of travelling with a group of young pupils on their first class trip, singing, making jokes about themselves, laughing or competing with each other on who had the latest smart phone. Nothing extraordinary ever happened and this represented –at first -the most difficult aspect of my work, documenting just every day life. What was I doing there? Only later I understood how all these meetings, rituals, ceremonies, etc. were part of a social routine initiated long time ago and that was necessary to strengthen the bounds of the local catholic communities around the World.