On Those Idols…

 

IT was to be a benign tree-planting ceremony, a consecration of the Amazonian Synod to St. Francis. The event was not organized by the Vatican but the Order of Friars Minor, the World Catholic Movement for Climate (GCCM) and REPAM (Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network). The Pope, flanked by other hierarchy, gathered in the Vatican Gardens along with indigenous folk from the Amazon. A canoe, a basket, wooden statues of pregnant women and other “artifacts” were set in front of the Holy Father. What happened next, however, sent shockwaves throughout Christendom: several people present suddenly bowed down before the “artifacts.” This no longer seemed to be a simple “visible sign of integral ecology,” as stated in the Vatican’s press release, but had all the appearances of a pagan ritual. The central question immediately became, “Who were the statues representing?”

Catholic News Agency reported that “people held hands and bowed before carved images of pregnant women, one of which reportedly represented the Blessed Virgin Mary.”[1]catholicnewsagency.com According to a transcript of a video of the statue’s presentation to the Pope, it is identified as “Our Lady of the Amazon.”[2]cf. wherepeteris.com However, Fr. Giacomo Costa, a communications official for the synod, said the carved woman is not the Virgin Mary but “a female figure representing life.”[3]catholic.org This appeared to be confirmed by Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications. He described the carved image as an “effigy of maternity and the sacredness of life.”[4]reuters.com In Amazonian folklore, that is likely, then, a representation of “Pachamama” or “Mother Earth.” If that is the case, participants were not venerating the Blessed Mother but adoring a pagan idol—which might explain why the Pope set aside prepared remarks and simply prayed the Our Father. 

It likely also explains why, in the wee hours of dawn, two unidentified men seized some of the carved images and sent them to the bottom of the Tiber River—to the cheers of many Catholics all over the world. Tornielli shot back that this was an act of contempt, a “violent and intolerant gesture.”[5]reuters.com Vatican Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, declared it to be “an act of defiance… against the spirit of dialogue” while affirming that the statues “represented life, fertility, mother earth.”[6]vaticannews.va And Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City labeled the two thieves the “black sheep” of the Catholic family — as well as “climate deniers,” according to Crux. [7]cruxnow.com

 

IDLE ABOUT IDOLS?

To be certain, there is nothing wrong with a cultural symbol of “maternity and sacredness of life” being present at a Vatican event. Moreover, I disagree with those who say that the Blessed Virgin would never be depicted as topless. However, toplessness in the West carries a completely different significance than it does among indigenous peoples. Moreover, Catholic sacred art in previous centuries reveals the powerful imagery and symbolism of Mother Mary’s breast, from which comes forth the milk of the fullness of grace. 

The problem—the grave problem—is that several present at the ceremony, including at least one monk, were bowing with their faces to the ground before what the Vatican tells us were secular images. In the language of the Church, such prostration is reserved for God alone (even prostration before the saints, as opposed to bowing or kneeling in prayer, is a rare expression in the proper veneration of holy souls). In fact, in pretty much every culture on earth, such a prostration is a universal sign of worship. While the Vatican’s spokesmen may have been arguably justified in their displeasure at the ensuing theft, the lack of concern or comment over what can only be understood as idolatry is mindbloggling. Again, given the official response that this was not the Virgin Mary, it would appear that the First Commandment was broken in the presence of the Roman Pontiff. Forget about having to be a climate obeyer… one must now be a climate worshipper?

The outrage in the Catholic world is appropriate since A) the Vatican spokesmen claimed it was not a veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary or Our Lady of the Amazon; B) no apology or proper explanation was offered of what took place; and C) there is biblical precedent for not treating idolatry with phony political correctness: 

The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their garments when they heard this and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “Men, why are you doing this? …We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God, ‘who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them.'” (Acts 14-15)

The affair (certainly the optics of it) smelled of not only syncretism but the kind of enviro-spiritualism that is turning so-called “Mother Earth” into a deity. This is not an isolated event. Increasingly, the Catholic Church of late is being transformed into a political arm of the United Nations as the “good news” is being supplanted by “climate dogma.” It evokes the very warning that Pope Francis himself gave regarding a worldliness that is spreading like black ink through the baptismal waters of the faithful:

…worldliness is the root of evil and it can lead us to abandon our traditions and negotiate our loyalty to God who is always faithful. This… is called apostasy, which… is a form of “adultery” which takes place when we negotiate the essence of our being: loyalty to the Lord. —POPE FRANCIS from a homily, Vatican Radio, November 18th, 2013

 

UPDATE (October 25th, 2019): The Holy See issued a press release of the Pope’s spontaneous remarks regarding the wooden statues that were cast into the Tiber River. Francis announced that the statues had been retrieved by police and apologized to anyone who was “offended by this act” (of stealing). The Pope referred to the wooden carvings as “statues of the pachamama” and said that those “taken from the church of the Transpontina… were there without idolatrous intentions.” He added that the statues may, in fact, still be exhibited “during the Holy Mass for the closing of the Synod.”[8]vaticannews.va

At this point, it is still unclear whether Pope Francis sees the “pachamamas” as mere cultural art. If he does, it still presents a great difficulty since people were bowing and praying before them as he looked on in the Vatican Garden.

UPDATE (October 29th, 2019): Missio, the pastoral agency of the Italian Episcopal Conference, published a prayer to Pachamama in an April 2019 publication devoted to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, reports Catholic World News. The prayer, described as a “prayer to Mother Earth of the Inca peoples,” reads:

Pachamama of these places, drink and eat this offering at will, so that this earth may be fruitful. Pachamama, good Mother, be favorable! Be favorable! Make that the oxen walk well, and that they not become tired. Make that the seed sprout well, that nothing bad may happen to it, that the cold may not destroy it, that it produce good food. We ask this from you: give us everything. Be favorable! Be favorable!

Here is the prayer as it appears in the publication:

 

THE LOG IN OUR OWN EYES

While anger at the apparent apathy of the Vatican on this matter is understandable, we ought to temper it by, once again, looking into the mirror. There is another way to see the aforementioned events: it is a warning to all of us that false gods have entered the temple, that is, your body and mine, which are temples of the Holy Spirit. This is cause to examine the idols in our own lives and to repent of any idolatry. It would be hypocrisy for us to shake our fists at the Vatican… while we bow before the gods of materialism, lust, food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, etc., or find ourselves devoting precious time each day gazing into our smartphones, computers, and television screens at the expense of prayer, family time, or the duty of the moment. 

For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. (Phil 3:18-19)

Indeed, in the last times, God ultimately (and reluctantly) allows chastisements to cover the earth in order to draw, at least some, out of their idolatry:

The rest of the human race, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, to give up the worship of demons and idols made from gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. (Rev 9:20)

We might be thinking of golden calves or bronze statues… but boats, cars, houses, jewellery, fashion and electronics also use wood, stone, and precious metals—and they have become the idols of the 21st century. 

 

MISPLACED ANGER?

While Vatican officials are angry that pagan symbols were removed from an Italian Church in what is called a “violent and intolerant gesture,” one wonders where this anger was when modernists entered the front doors of our Catholic churches and stole our heritage? I’ve personally heard stories where, in the wake of Vatican II, statues were taken to graveyards and smashed, icons and sacred art whitewashed, high altars chainsawed, Communion rails yanked, crosses and kneelers removed, and ornate vestments and the like mothballed. “What the Communists did in our churches by force,” some immigrants from Russia and Poland told me, “is what you’re doing yourselves!”

The bottom line is that a new generation of Christians is rising in a kind of counter-revolution that seeks to restore the beauty and dignity of our Catholic heritage. Here, I am not speaking of mere nostalgia nor of a truly “rigid” ultra-traditionalism that is closed to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is the long overdue smashing of modernist idols that have sullied the sanctuary, belittled the Liturgy, and robbed God of the glory that is His due.

That little ceremony in the Vatican Gardens is, I’m afraid, more of the same. It’s just that faithful Catholics today have kind of had enough.

 

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