UPDATE: Vatican Defends “Communist Crucifix” Says It Represents “Dialogue and Commitment to Freedom and Progress”
Please pray for these confused Church leaders.
On Thursday Bolivian Marxist leader Evo Morales gave Pope Francis a hammer and sickle Crucifix upon his arrival in the impoverished South American nation.
From the video — Pope Francis was smiling as he accepted the Communist gift.
At first the media reported Francis was upset with the gift.
But later the Vatican said that was not the case.
Morales gave Francis the crucifix carved into a hammer and sickle upon Francis’ arrival in Bolivia Wednesday, immediately raising eyebrows given Morales’ past attacks on the church and his socialist bent.
It turns out, the crucifix was originally designed by a Jesuit activist, the Rev. Luis Espinal, who was assassinated in 1980 by suspected paramilitaries during the months that preceded a military coup. Francis, a fellow Jesuit, stopped his motorcade to pray at the site where Espinal’s body had been dumped.
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 Morales “This isn’t good;” one of Francis’ friends sent a tweet quoting him as saying such. But Lombardi said it wasn’t known what the pope had said.
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. 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,” Lombardi said.
He noted the context in which Espinal was living: as a priest working for social justice in Bolivia during a period of instability that preceded a right-wing dictatorship known for human rights abuses.
However, one of Espinal’s friends and fellow Jesuits, the Rev. Xavier Albo, said Espinal’s intent was for the church to be in dialogue with Marxism, and said Espinal had altered his crucifix to incorporate the Communists’ most potent symbol: the hammer and sickle.
“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 maneuver of any sort, but was a symbol that Morales thought the “pope of the poor” would appreciate.