When he learned of the eyebrow-raising cost of hosting Pope Francis in Lisbon, Portugal, for a week-long event known as World Youth Day, installation artist Artur Bordalo (better known as Bordalo II) took matters into his own hands.

On July 28, Bordalo II and his team accessed the event’s custom-built main stage to roll out a red carpet printed with €500 ($546) banknotes, directly confronting the Portuguese government, the Catholic Church, and the Lisbon and Loures city councils for the collective €161 million (~$177 million) spent in preparing for and hosting the Pope.

“In a secular state, at a time when many people are fighting to keep their homes, their work and their dignity, millions of public funds have been invested to sponsor the tour of the Italian multinational,” Bordalo II wrote in an Instagram statement along with images and videos of the carpet roll-out that he dubbed the “Walk of Shame.” Official reports outlining cost estimates for the first World Youth Day since 2019, an international pilgrimage event devoted to deepening the faith of young Catholics, were made public at the end of last January.

Portuguese citizens were both slack-jawed and outraged at the nine-figure estimates considering that half of all Portuguese employees made less than €1,000 per month and house rents have soared over 40% since 2017, with Lisbon clocking in at a 53% increase. Despite the overwhelming financial crises affecting the nation, Lisbon’s city council agreed to an original cost of approximately €4.2M ($4.59M) for the Pope’s stage, justifying its potential for future use down the line on top of an additional €17m ($18.6M) investment to prepare the surrounding grounds for World Youth Day.

While the cost of the stage alone was eventually brought down to €2.9M after enough pushback, the cloud of controversy surrounding the Church’s ongoing sex abuse scandal also loomed over the Papal visit. Primarily celebrated for his trash-based installations protesting pollution and excessive waste production, Bordalo II addressed the scandal last year through a series called Cruzes, Credo, Canhoto (2022), consisting of a crucified baby doll and a large cross made of stuffed toys situated in Portuguese churches as well as revamped street signs calling out the manipulation of the clergy.

Though the “Walk of Shame” (2023) specifically addresses the financial burden of World Youth Day above all else, Bordalo II expressed to the Portuguese news outlet Expresso that “it’s perverse that after we learn about sexual abuse in the Church, the State is sponsoring this Catholic festival.”

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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