The Pope has apologised and ask forgiveness of Amazonian bishops and indigenous for the theft and desecration of native fertility statues that were presiding over the Amazon Synod in the Vatican.
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As he opened the Synod session Friday, Francis, speaking as “Bishop of Rome”, asked “pardon” of those who had been offended at the robbery and subsequent disposal in the Tiber River of the carved wooden statuettes of the naked pregnant women.
The Pope added that the statues of the figure venerated by some indigenous as “Our Lady of the Amazon” had been displayed in the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, from which they were stolen October 21, “without any intention of idolatry”.
Ultraconservative Catholics had argued relentlessly that the ‘Pachamama’ figures were demonic, pagan totems.
Francis said too that the figures thrown in the river have been recovered by Roman police, who are currently holding them for safekeeping.
He confirmed that the statues will be back in the Vatican to preside over the closing Mass of the Amazon Synod this Sunday.
The Pope’s apology for the theft and profanation of the statues puts an end to a month-long controversy over exactly what the statues represent, and the place they have had in Amazon Synod proceedings.
They first appeared in the Synod opening procession October 6, but were immediately criticised by Catholic ultraconservatives for being “satanic” and “syncretistic”.
Vatican spokesman Paolo Ruffini repeatedly insisted that the statues represent “life, fertility, Mother Earth”.
Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli added that the figures are an “image of motherhood and the sacredness of life, a traditional symbol for indigenous peoples representing the bond with our ‘mother earth'”.
Both Ruffini and Tornielli condemned the robbery of the figures in the strongest terms, with Tornielli laying the blame for the “violent and intolerant gesture” at the feet of the “new iconoclasts” of conservative Catholic media.
The Pan-Amazonian Church Network, or REPAM – a driving force behind the organisation of the Amazon Synod – also condemned the robbery.
The REPAM lamented that during the Synod indigenous people have been subject to “acts of violence… reflecting religious intolerance, racism [and] humiliation”.