September 7, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Tens of thousands of Mexican Catholics are protesting the erection of a sculpture in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, that merges an image of the Virgin Mary and an Aztec death goddess. They also have complained that the city’s archbishop dropped the ball in the fight to remove the offensive artwork.
The sculpture, which was erected by the city government on the medium of a major thoroughfare, is called “Syncretism,” and combines elements of images of Our Lady of Guadalupe with those of the Aztec goddess known as “Coatlicue,” who was seen as a mother figure who consumes and destroys everything she produces.
The erection of the nine-meter-tall image has provoked massive public protests in the thousands, by Catholics who denounce it for confusing the country’s most important Christian symbol with the very religion of human sacrifice that it helped to defeat 500 years ago.
A group calling itself “The People of Guadalupe” (Pueblo Guadalupano) held a protest near the sculpture on August 27 that drew about 1,500 people, according to city authorities.
Banners have also been hung at different locations in the city asking, “How is it that you don’t understand that this is OUR MOST HOLY MOTHER? YOU are the inquisitor who dictatorially ignores the voice of the majority! JALISCO IS GUADALUPAN!” with the hashtags “Understand it offends us” (#NosOfendeEntiende) “She’s my mother” (#EsMiMadre) and “Respect the people” (#RespetaAlPueblo).
Protesters complain that the public was not consulted by the city government before the sculpture was erected. They are outraged that taxpayers have been charged 5.2 million pesos, the equivalent of about 290,000 USD, for the work.
An electronic petition drive asking for the withdrawal of the sculpture on the activist website CitizenGo has garnered more than 33,000 signatures since August 16. The petition organizer, Emmanuel Torres Renteria, writes that Catholics “consider it a grave offense that, in the name of art, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is being profaned and the message that in itself gave rise to a new mestizo culture that is the Mexican people, is being distorted.”
“We regard this work of syncretism, which brings together the Aztec goddess of death and the Virgin of Guadalupe, as a provocation against Catholics, which also was done at an elevated cost of more than five million pesos, and we cannot permit it,” he adds.
Catholic faithful who carry out all-night vigils of adoration of the Eucharist in Guadalajara parishes were asked to offer their adoration in reparation for the offense committed by the erection of the sculpture, according to the newspaper La Jornada.
Archbishop Francisco Robles Ortega perceived as weak
The Catholic archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega, has been criticized for defending the author of the work and for attributing the outrage to the incapacity of “simple” people to understand it.
Robles Ortega read parts of a letter written to him by the author of the work, Ismael Vargas, defending his intentions, and said, “I believe that the work in itself, without anyone giving an explanation, is upsetting, it does disturb simple people; that is to say, those who don’t have the capacity to transcend the work of art and its meaning.”
“I think that’s what’s happened,” Robles Ortega continued. “The most simple people, the most humble people with a religious devotion to the most holy virgin, who are accustomed to see her one, classic image, well, they seem to be upset, confused, by this interpretation that seeks to be artistic.”
Robles Ortega also told the press that the archdiocese will not request the removal of the sculpture, although he said that the city government should listen to the opinions of citizens who object to the work.
In an apparently sarcastic response to the cardinal’s statements, a group of faithful calling itself “Simple Catholic People” noted that the prelate’s words “remind us of the nefarious conduct of the ex-abbot of the Basilica of Guadalupe, Guillermo Schulemburg, who, in 1996, denied the existence of Juan Diego and therefore the apparitions of Guadalupe.”
“In the case of Robles Ortega, one would expect of him as a Catholic leader to express a defense of the faith which he supposedly professes,” the group declared. “Instead we hear him defend the author of the controversial work ‘Syncretism,” besides giving a pathetic defense, not of the Catholic faith as such, but of the right of simple Catholics to express their feelings about the topic.”
In contrast to Robles Ortega, city’s archbishop emeritus, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, has made a strong denunciation of the sculpture, and has called for its withdrawal.
“If he (the mayor of Guadalajara) isn’t a believer, well, he might not be a believer. Governing officials aren’t obligated to be believers, but it isn’t just for them to be non-believing persecutors or abusers or to make fun of people. They shouldn’t use art as an excuse to do such things,” Cardinal Sandoval told the local media, and added that the image, which is “being paid for from the public treasury … must be removed from there because it is offensive for the majority of Catholics.”
The city’s mayor, the left-leaning reformist Enrique Alfaro, laughed when asked about Cardinal Sandoval’s denunciation of the sculpture. “No comment,” he told reporters. “In this city everyone has the right to state his opinion.”
Alfaro also shrugged off questions about the cost of the program of public art and the lack of public consultation in selecting such works. “We are moving ahead with the public art program and it’s a program that fills us with pride,” Alfaro said.
The sculpture’s author, Ismael Vargas, claims to be a faithful Catholic, and says the work “is a clear and respectful account of the historic process that permitted the spirituality of the Amerindian cultures to couple with the Christian faith.” His explanation seems to have done little to address the concerns of area Catholics.