Pope Francis’s Crucifix, a gift from Morales stirs controversy

Pope Francis’s Crucifix, a gift from Morales stirs controversy

A crucifix that is sculpted in the shape of a hammer and sickle presented to Pope Francis in Bolivia has been the cause of a major stir among Catholic commentators.

The Pope was presented with the item that combines Catholic and Communist symbols, by left wing Bolivian President, Evo Morales.

One Catholic bishop even suggest that Mr Morales sought to “manipulate God”.

But while there are reports that the Pope was taken aback by the present, the row has been downplayed by the Vatican.

The crucifix, was based on a design by Luis Espinal, a Jesuit Priest assassinated in 1980 by the right-wing militia to whom Pope Francis paid tribute during his trip.

Shortly after his arrival in La Paz, the Pope stopped at the site where the body of the priest was dumped along the road to pray.

“It’s true. This is something Espinal did. The Pope didn’t know about it. I did not know about it. A lot of people don’t know about it, “Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said during an unscheduled briefing on Thursday.

Fr Lombardi, a Jesuit himself as is the Pope said Pope Francis had not “expressed any judgment” on the sculpture, the original of which was made at a time when many Catholic Priests were involved in Liberation Theology movements in defense of the poor.

He said the president gave the cross to the Pope since it showed the Church was compatible with the communist fight for the rights of the poor and workers.

Further, he said that Bolivian Jesuits told him the sculpture was “not a Marxist interpretation of religion but an opening to dialogue with others who were looking for justice and liberation.

“I don’t think I would put this symbol on an altar in a church however”, he added.

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The communications minister in Bolivia, Marianela Paco while speaking to Bolivian radio said “The sickle evokes the peasant, the hammer the carpenter, representing humble workers, God’s people”. He added that there was “no other” motive behind the gift.

The interpretations regarding the Popes thoughts on the cross are different.

There are some reports saying he was embarrassed, telling Mr Morales: “This isn’t good”.

But the spokesman of the Vatican, Federico Lombardi, said it was more likely Pope Francis expressed surprise at the origins of the gift.

The Pope himself has been accused of Marxist leanings, after mounting strong criticism of inequality and capitalism.

Among the strongest reactions is one from Spanish bishop Jose Ignacio Minilla who tweeted: “The height of arrogance is to manipulate God for the service of atheist ideologies”- (follow this link for more information)

“This is a provocation, a joke”, said Bolivian Bishop Gonzalo del Castillo quoted by AFP news agency.

Also, there was anger on Facebook pages of the Catholic News Agency. “One cannot simply combine Communism and Christianity!” wrote one user.

However, one comment read: “This is an insult to Pope Francis, this is in memory of the Jesuit Martyr, who died defending the poor and oppressed of Bolivia.

Now, Pope Francis is in Paraguay, the third and final country on his tour of Latin America which comes to an end on Monday.



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