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Amazon Natives Stage Political Protest in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, at opening Mass of Amazon Synod, Oct. 6, 2019.LifeSiteNews

VATICAN CITY, October 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – A group of special guests at the Opening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Pan-Amazonian Synod staged a strange protest as soon as Pope Francis’ back was turned. 

The predominantly female group included indigenous people in face-paint and feather headdresses as well as Latin Americans of European descent in casual clothing. When Mass had ended and the Argentinian pontiff had processed from St. Peter’s Basilica, the group began to chant and sing. Before police managed to usher them down the aisle, they unfurled a banner reading (in Italian):

“Synod on the Amazon: Listen to the cry of the Mother Earth and peoples and become a prophetic Church.”

One of the women was Sister María Irene Lopes de los Santos, the executive secretary of REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network. Lopes de Los Santos was also a member of the PreSynodal Council.

The gesture was an odd one, considering that the group had occupied places of honor, right behind the bishops in the part of the basilica closest to the altar. Clearly the Synod on the Amazon is already listening to Sister María Irene Lopes de los Santos.

Also odd was the reference to “the Mother Earth” when the most important mother in St. Peter’s Basilica, as in every other church and street corner in Rome, is the Mother of God, Mary Most Holy. Moreover, St. Peter’s Basilica is dedicated to the worship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, not the Earth Mother, Gaia, or the old Roman Tellus Mater. 

It’s a little worrying, too, as the Vatican has already witnessed an oddly pantheistic scene: a ritual in a garden involving two statuettes of nude pregnant women and other, more rudely carved, figures. The unusual ceremony, which again involved both aboriginals and religious of European descent, took place before Pope Francis.

The internet has lit up with arguments about who the figures are meant to be, and whether this was by any stretch of the imagination a Catholic liturgy.

Meanwhile, the sight of white European photographers ushering around native peoples dressed in feathers, face paint, T-shirts and running shoes for photo ops makes me uncomfortable. I’m a Canadian who went to elementary school with two First Nations children, and they didn’t wear feathers and facepaint to class. And having spent some time in Germany, I know that some Europeans are fascinated by a romantic, 19th-century view of the aboriginal peoples of the Americas. Germans of episcopal age grew up, for example, with the Western fantasies of American Indian life written by Karl May.

Germany is also home to the famous Indianer camps, where hobbyists dress up as Indians and live in teepees. Germans also pour into the Canadian West every year to see First Nations dances and crafts. However, the fourth-largest population of Canadian First Nations people is in hyper-urban Toronto, which in itself suggests that numerous aboriginal people don’t conform to romantic European stereotypes. 

Pope Francis said that to understand the Synod, one must read his encyclical Laudato Si’. I read Laudato Si’. I’m all in favor of Christians living the evangelical counsels, which include poverty, chastity, and obedience according to our states in life. Living a less wasteful, less damaging, less consumerist lifestyle is the kind of poverty I can get behind. Anyone can get behind what Francis says about “responsible stewardship.” But, nevertheless, there are serious concerns that many have raised about the document. 

One of them is Laudato Si’s romantic attitude towards the aboriginal peoples, their cultural traditions and their relationship to the land. Again, there is some good here: obviously forcing people off the land they’ve lived on for countless generations is a bad thing. However, keeping them tied to the land and to cultural traditions that might not serve the best interests of infants, the disabled, women, or young people who want to encounter the wider world is not great either.  

Another is the encyclical’s suggestion that nations are not able to take care of the environment themselves. The specter of One World Government appears in section 175, when Francis writes:

The twenty-first century, while maintaining systems of governance inherited from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the power of the nation states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, which functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments and empowered to impose sanctions …

He goes on to quote Pope Benedict as saying “… there is need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Saint John XXIII indicated some years ago.”

Well, with all due respect to Francis, Benedict and St. John XXIII, the idea of a true world political authority scares me a bit, since neither the United Nations nor any other world political authority seems to care at all about unborn babies, for a starter.

Speaking about unborn babies, many ancient peoples of the world, including across Europe, worshipped fertility goddesses. The temptation to worship the awesome power of sexuality and fertility lurks under the surface of all human cultures. To be faithful to God the Father, and to Jesus Christ His Son, we have to resist this particular “cry of the Mother”. That goes for the nagging desire for priestesses, too.

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.