The International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) and the Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose Giovanni XXIII (FSCIRE) are pleased to announce that Italian journalist Federica Tourn was awarded the first edition of the Piazza Grande Religion Journalism Award for her coverage about religion discrimination in Italian prisons Dio dietro le sbarre—God behind bars.

The international jury also awarded three special mentions to journalists Gerald Drißner of Austria for Kolossale Ambitionen einer kleinen Stadt—The colossal ambitions of a little town; László Szőcs of Hungary, for Megtalált jegygyűrű / A wedding ring recovered; and Chiara Zappa of Italy, for Papa Francesco ad Abu Dhabi: La Chiesa in terra araba / Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi: The Church on Arab soil.

Here are the jury’s comments for the winner and the special mentions:


Dio dietro le sbarre—God behind bars, by Federica Tourn – Jesus, Italy

A powerful story about religious discrimination and the role of religion in Italian prisons, with a strong message about religious freedom and religious pluralism. It is an impactful and positive story that goes to the heart of what it means to practice not just preach interfaith dialogue. Excellent reporting of legal and legislative issues, important statistics, and how they affect prisoners of all religious traditions. The author writes with profound awareness of the importance of faith and practice. The quotes are broad and oftentimes compelling. It is not just a critique of the current system, but also presents a way forward to prison reform.

Article titled ”Dio Dietro le Sbarre”
Dio dietro le sbarreGod behind bars, by Federica Tourn (with photos by Isabella Beatrice De Maddalena) was published by Catholic magazine Jesus in July 2019.

Special mentions

Kolossale Ambitionen einer kleinen Stadt, by Gerald Drißner for CREDO, Austria

The story of a small Polish town trying to assert its Christian identity and to get onto the global map by erecting the world’s biggest Jesus Christ statue. It shows the pros and cons and tensions about its construction and raises the issue of the importance of physical religious identity. A well written story, with good on-the-ground reporting, plenty of details on the places, politics and people involved. It lays out a complex narrative that is never boring.

Megtalált jegygyűrű, by László Szőcs of Magyar Nemzet, Hungary

Telling of the first Purim since the beginning of the Holocaust, the story covers the return of Jewish tradition to a Hungarian town. It is a positive and compelling story that shows the value of freedom of religion. Lots of details that take the reader inside the town and Jewish practices, while dipping into the past yet keeping it focused on the present. Very powerful from the journalistic point of view, with solid on-the-ground reporting.

Papa Francesco ad Abu Dhabi: La Chiesa in terra araba, by Chiara Zappa of Avvenire, Italy

An unexpected glimpse into the growing Catholic community in a Muslim-majority Abu Dhabi, that is only now allowing churches for the increasing number of non- Muslim migrant workers. Well contextualised ahead of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking trip to the United Arab Emirates, it is a strong piece detailing both religious freedom and interfaith relations, and drawing attention to human rights.

The Piazza Grande Religion Journalism Award was launched by the IARJ and FSCIRE in Bologna in March 2019 during the annual conference of the European Academy of Religion (EuARe) to honor the work of journalists covering faith and religion in Europe, including Iceland and Russia, and the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin. The award program is run by the IARJ and funded by FSCIRE.

In its first edition it received 71 entries. The entries came from journalists based in countries including Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom. The IARJ and the FSCIRE thank all of the participants in the contest for entering their stories to the first edition of the Piazza Grande Religion Journalism Award.