Indigenous organisations of the Amazon in Rome for the Synod have condemned the “violence” and “racism” behind the theft and desecration Monday of sacred statues displayed in a Roman church.

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The Pan-Amazonian Church Network or REPAM – one of the driving forces behind the Amazon Synod – denounced in the strongest possible terms yesterday’s robbery of indigenous fertility ‘Pachamama’ statues from a chapel of the Church of St Mary in Traspontina, near the Vatican.

The unidentified individuals responsible for the theft threw the sacred statues in the Tiber River.

They filmed and posted the profanation on social media.

The statues, which depict pregnant indigenous women, were brought specifically to the Vatican from the Amazon to preside over Synod events.

But ultraconservative Catholics have been relentless in their criticism of the figures, which they believe represent “idols” and “demons”.


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“We deeply regret and at the same time denounce that in recent days we have been victims of acts of violence reflecting religious intolerance, racism [and] degrading attitudes which above all affect indigenous peoples and demonstrate a refusal to build new paths for the renewal of our Church”, the REPAM lamented in a statement.

The Network denounced that ultraconservative Catholic acts of intimidation and harrassment of indigenous participants at the Amazon Synod run the risk “of being repeated or of getting worse, and of doing greater damage”.

“Our presence and initiatives have been peaceful at all times, always in a prayerful attitude and calling for the action of the Spirit in this synodal process”, the REPAM recalled.

“We will not respond to these attitudes of violence and in evangelical fidelity we recognise and respect diversity in other expressions of the encounter with Christ”, the Network underlined.

“We trust that the call of the Gospel of Christ is for all without exception, and as a Common Home we are committed to being a Church united in our diversities”, the REPAM continued.

The Network called on all people of good will “to remain united”, and to remain committed in hope “for the defence of life and the Amazon”.

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Why it matters

While there has been no official claim of responsibility for the theft and desecration of the Pachamama statues, ultraconservative Catholic media outlets retweeted and reposted videos and explanations of the burglary.

“I announce to you with great joy: the Pachamama idols that polluted the Church of St Maria Traspontina have been cast away into the Tiber River as an act of obedience to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ & in reparation to His Sacred Heart wounded by sin”, US ultra-reactionary Catholic author Taylor Marshall tweeted.

Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, condemned the profanation, and explained at a Synod briefing:

“We have already repeated several times here that those statues represented life, fertility, mother earth.

“It was a gesture – I believe – that contradicts the spirit of dialogue that should always inspire us.

“I don’t know what else to say except that it was a theft, and perhaps that speaks for itself”.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh tweeted: “Just prayed here at Transpontina church at altar where, in an act of appalling disrespect & violence, fanatics egged on by ethics-free journalism this am broke in here & threw into the Tiber the figurine described by the Catholic people of Amazonia as Our Lady of the Amazon”.

Rome correspondent for British publication The Tablet Christopher Lamb tweeted: “An act of iconoclasm, and a further attack on the indigenous of the Amazon, who are already persecuted.

“This takes place amid a climate of hostility to indigenous icons generated in some Church quarters during the Amazon synod”.

US Catholic observer Rich Raho labelled the burglary “a disgrace and desecration” and tweeted:

“Not only is this an act of theft, but also an affront to Pope Francis who was presented with one of the statues at Amazon Synod dedication ceremony”.

Well-known US Jesuit James Martin observed on Twitter that “the hatred and contempt that the Synod for the Amazon has unleashed is astonishing”:

“A hatred for indigenous peoples and their cultures. A portrayal of them as “other.” And a hatred of course for Pope Francis. All this hatred leads inevitably to violence”.

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