A catholic has thrown three controversial statues into Rome’s River Tiber, before posting a video of the incident online. The video shows an unidentified figure removing the statues from the church of Santa Maria in Transpontina before knocking them off the edge of the Ponte Sant’Angelo. The video says it was done to emphasise that salvation comes only through Christ.
The statues have generated great controversy since one appeared at a ceremony at the start of the Amazon synod. A woman presented it to the Pope as “Our Lady of the Amazon”, but the photo agency Getty described it as a statue of “Pachamama”, an Andean goddess.
Fr Fernando Lopez, a member of the group who brought the image to Rome, told Crux it “represents life … It’s a mystery, life itself, that signifies in a way that God is also mother.”
Vatican officials have variously described the statue as a representation of fertility and of life and as “Mother Earth”. One bishop said he thought it represented Mary.
What people said about the statue
There was some confusion about what the statues represented, with some press reports describing them as “Amazon fertility statues” (The Washington Post) and others as “indigenous statues” (Vatican News). America magazine updated its online story, changing the headline from “Thieves steal Amazon fertility statues as synod nears end” to “Thieves steal wood carvings used at synod prayer”.
In some quarters, there was outrage at what was seen as theft and a targeting of indigenous culture. One Amazonian group helping to organise the synod, Amazonia Casa Comun, said: “We profoundly regret and deplore that in recent days we have been victims of acts of violence, religious intolerance, racism and contemptuous attitudes above all directed at indigenous peoples.” The Cuban-American academic Natalia Imperatori tweeted that “Destroying other people’s icons comes from a place of deep fear”.
But another Twitter user replicd to her: “I am from the Amazon (Belém do Pará in Brazil) … our people are mostly Catholic. We are celebrating the destruction of this pagan idol … The Amazon is Catholic and hates paganism!”
At Patheos, Jennifer Fitz wrote that the most important thing was the truth. “If it is in fact a pagan idol,” Fitz wrote, “we’re all being far too tolerant. If it’s not one, then let someone with teaching authority (I understand there are some possible candidates for that title milling around the Vatican) say so clearly. And if we are unable to have clear, authoritative teaching on the question of whether the thing is an idol … no wonder the Church is such a mess.”
What they said about the synod
At the National Catholic Register, Venezuela’s Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino wrote of the “ambiguous” ceremony at which the statue was introduced: “It is lamentable that, in spite of the many criticisms of that ritual, none of the organisers have explained what that ritual was.”
Cardinal Urosa said this was especially worrying as there were proposals at the synod for an “Amazonian rite”. In theory, “That would be OK. There are many rites in the Church.” But if such a rite is introduced, it “must avoid any kind of strange or incorrect syncretism”, the cardinal wrote. Above all, he hoped that the synod’s final document would call for “an overt evangelisation, in Amazonia and in the whole world”.
Philip Pullella, a correspondent for the news agency Reuters, said during a press conference that the synod had opened the way to criticism of Pope Francis. Whereas critics of previous popes were “qualified” to offer criticisms, Pullella said, those who criticised the Pope were sometimes teenagers.
At Crux, John Allen pointed out that the synod was strongly influenced by “bishops and other figures who are either themselves German, or influenced by the German Church”. German preoccupations – which are often progressive ones – had risen to the top of the synod’s agenda, notably with the discussion of making a major exception to mandatory priestly celibacy.
At catholicculture.org, Philip Lawler commented: “The German Catholic Church, which is haemorrhaging members, is giving ‘expert’ advice to the Church in the Amazon, which is haemorrhaging members. The blind leading the blind.”
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