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Did Pope Francis defend Pachamama idolatry at Vatican in new Amazon synod exhortation?

The pope wrote that it is 'possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry'
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Pope Francis receives Pachamama statue in Vatican gardens during indigenous ceremony, Rome, Oct. 4, 2019. Vatican News / video screen grab
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People bow to Pachamama during pagan rite in Vatican Gardens prior to opening of Amazon Synod, Oct. 4, 2019.
Paul Smeaton By Paul Smeaton

Paul Smeaton By Paul Smeaton

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February 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In his new exhortation released today on the Amazon Synod, Pope Francis made statements about “indigenous” symbols and “certain religious practices” that could be interpreted as a defense of the use of the controversial “Pachamama” statues during the synod in Rome last year.

In section 78 of Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis states that people should “not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples.” In section 79, the Pope continues that it is “possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry,” adding that a “myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error.”

On October 4, 2019, Pope Francis hosted a pagan ceremony with Pachamama statues in the Vatican Gardens and even blessed one of the statues. At the ceremony, people were bowing down to the ground worshiping the statue. Additionally, the Pope prayed in front of the Pachamama statue at St. Peter's Cathedral on October 7 and then accompanied it in procession into the synod hall. The Pope confirmed that the statue was “Pachamama” and apologized for other Pachamama statues being thrown into the Tiber river.

In response to the ceremonies in the Vatican Gardens, Bishop Athanasius Schneider called on all Catholics — bishops, priests and laity — to offer acts of reparation, protest and correction for the use of the Pachamama statues, which he called a “new golden calf.” 

In an open letter forcefully condemning the use of the Pachamama statue at the Amazon Synod in the Vatican, Bishop Schneider wrote: “In front of the eyes of the entire world and in the presence of the Pope, there were conducted clear acts of religious adoration of symbols and statues of the pagan, indigenous, South-American religions, the so-called 'Pachamama.'”

“Such conduct of the highest Church authority which does not only not forbid the symbols of pagan religions and their worship, but, rather, even justifies them, causes a great damage for the salvation of souls, because thereby the First Commandment is being undermined and in practical terms is being rescinded,” Schneider said. 

Several other bishops and cardinals also condemned the use of the Pachamama statues during the synod. An international group of 100 priests and lay scholars called on Pope Francis to repent for the ceremonies.

God’s real presence...in nature? 

Also in the exhortation, the Pope compares the relationship Catholics have with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist with the “cosmic worldview” of indigenous peoples conscious of God’s presence in a “glorious and mysterious way” in nature. 

In section 74 Pope Francis insists that “a relationship with Jesus Christ, true God and true man, liberator and redeemer, is not inimical to the markedly cosmic worldview that characterizes the indigenous peoples, since he is also the Risen Lord who permeates all things.” 

He continues in that section to compare an appreciation of God’s “glorious and mysterious” presence in natural, created things with His Presence in the Holy Eucharist. Pope Francis writes: “He is present in a glorious and mysterious way in the river, the trees, the fish and the wind, as the Lord who reigns in creation without ever losing his transfigured wounds, while in the Eucharist he takes up the elements of this world and confers on all things the meaning of the paschal gift.”

The Catholic Church teaches that in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, natural elements, bread and wine, are transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Thus the Church teaches that a supernatural miracle occurs which transforms the substance of natural, created things, bread and wine, into God Himself. The Council of Trent teaches that “our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained in the august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the appearance of those sensible things.”

The Council of Trent declares that there is “no room for doubt that all the faithful of Christ may, in accordance with a custom always received in the Catholic Church, give to this most holy sacrament in veneration the worship of, which is due to the true God.”

In section 5 of Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis states that the document is not just addressed to the nine countries that share the Amazon region but “to the whole world." Pope Francis continues in section 5 to invite the world to acknowledge the land of the Amazon as a “sacred mystery.”

In section 7, Pope Francis says that he dreams “of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features."

This theme of the Amazonian region giving the Church “new faces” is developed in section 68, when Pope Francis writes: “The Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face. In the end this means allowing and encouraging the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel to be preached ‘in categories proper to each culture, creating a new synthesis with that particular culture’.”

In section 70, Pope Francis states that the Church “needs to listen” to the “ancestral wisdom” of the Amazon region. He states that the Church needs to “listen once more to the voice of its [Amazon] elders.”

In section 82 Pope Francis suggests that the Church’s liturgy can be developed through an appreciation of “the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature.” He writes: “we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols. The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines.”

Bishop John Arnold, Catholic Bishop of the Salford diocese in the UK, gave a press conference in London today on Querida Amazonia. Bishop Arnold praised the document, saying he “loved the language” and that “it’s full, as everything Pope Francis writes, it’s full of the hope that he believes that as Christians we have fundamentally at the heart of our vocation and our belief.” He noted that the document was not just addressed to the Amazon, but to “all of us” and said that he thought it was, like Laudato si, “able to achieve great things.”

When asked at the press conference what he thought of Bishop Schneider’s comment that the First Commandment had been undermined by the Pachamama ceremonies during the Amazon Synod, Bishop Arnold said: “I don’t think that the Pope showed any disrespect to Christians by the presence of those statues, but respect for the people who were presenting themselves, their culture and their faith to him as we discussed their region.”

Asked whether we could expect to see Pacahamas in churches in western nations, or even in his own diocese, Bishop Arnold said that he didn’t think it would ever happen, but advocated the use of Buddhist spirituality in order to assist Christian prayer. He said: “I don’t think that is ever likely to happen at all. As Christians we should respect people and their beliefs and I would hope that we would never dismiss someone for the belief that they have. And we may well draw from their traditions and their beliefs to assist us in our gospel belief and practice. For example some people may see in Buddhist meditation a way of feeding their prayer life by their very use of a mantra.” 

When asked whether, at the request of parishioners, he would consider establishing spaces for regular devotion to Pachamamas in churches in his diocese, Bishop Arnold responded: “It wouldn’t happen because it’s not part of the Christian tradition. We have a sacred space, which is dedicated to our sacred images.” Asked if those images included Pachamamas, Bishop Arnold said “no.”


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