Vatican: ‘Communist crucifix’ sign of dialogue, not ideology

Pope Francis is presented with a gift of a crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle, the Communist symbol uniting labor and peasants, by Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, July 8, 2015.  

Bolivia and the Vatican both sought on Thursday to tamp down controversy over President Evo Morales’ gift of a “Communist crucifix” to Pope Francis, insisting that no offense was intended or taken by the gesture.

Mr. Morales gave Pope Francis the crucifix carved into a hammer and sickle upon Pope Francis’ arrival in Bolivia on Wednesday, immediately raising eyebrows given Mr. Morales’ past attacks on the church and his socialist bent. Critics said it was a distasteful, and possibly heretical melding of faith and ideology.

It turns out, the crucifix was originally designed by a Jesuit activist, the Rev. Luis Espinal, who was assassinated in 1980 by suspected Bolivian paramilitaries during the months that preceded a military coup. Pope Francis, a fellow Jesuit, stopped his motorcade to pray at the site where Espinal’s body had been dumped when he arrived on Wednesday.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Thursday the Pope had no idea that Espinal had designed the crucifix and was surprised to receive it a reaction clearly visible in the footage of the encounter. Some reports suggested the Pope told Mr. Morales “This isn’t good;” one of Pope Francis’ friends sent a tweet quoting him as saying such. But Cardinal Lombardi said it wasn’t known what the Pope had said.

Cardinal Lombardi said Espinal had designed the crucifix as a symbol of dialogue and commitment to freedom and progress for Bolivia, not with any specific ideology in mind. Cardinal Lombardi said he personally wasn’t offended by it.

“You can dispute the significance and use of the symbol now, but the origin is from Espinal and the sense of it was about an open dialogue, not about a specific ideology,” Cardinal Lombardi said.

“In this he clearly wanted to speak about the need to permanently dialogue not just with Marxism but with peasants and miners etc.,” Albo told The Associated Press earlier this month.

The Vatican launched a harsh crackdown on Liberation Theology in the 1970s and 1980s, fearing that Marxists were using its “preferential option for the poor” to turn the Gospel into a call for armed revolution.

The Bolivian government insisted the gift wasn’t a political manoeuvre of any sort, but was a symbol that Mr. Morales thought the “pope of the poor” would appreciate.

“That was the intention of this gift, and it was not any sort of manoeuvre ... It was really from great affection, a work designed by the very hands of Luis Espinal,” Communications Minister Marianela Paco told the Patria Nueva radio station.

The Catholic blogosphere was buzzing on Thursday with the “Communist crucifix” and what, exactly, Mr. Morales intended by giving it to the Pope.

The Rev. James Bretzke, a theologian at Boston College in Massachusetts, said there is no church legislation that addresses whether Christian imagery is sacrilegious since Christian art is often portrayed in a variety of ways.

But, he continued- “Is this in good taste? Does this seem to be using the Crucifix for political agenda? And I would say the answer is probably yes. Therefore, I would judge it personally in bad taste and especially manipulative to present it to the Holy Father in a situation like that where it clearly hadn’t been cleared ahead of time.”

The Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome, said it all boils down to Espinal’s intent in designing the cross and Mr. Morales’ intent in giving it to the Pope.

“I’d suppose that, given Morales’ warm welcome and Espinal’s personal convictions, the intent was not to offend but rather to indicate potential for dialogue and even synergy,” he said in an email. “Christians tend to see our symbols from the perspective of universal love, redemption, and even Christ’s triumph over evil. Indeed, that is what the cross is all about!”

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 9:47:41 AM |

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