VATICAN CITY – While the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon continued deliberation on a final draft of networking and co-responsibility, at least two unknown men entered the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, just outside Vatican City, and stole five statues of Pachamama and then threw them into the Tiber.
As TWH reported earlier this week, the act was shown on video by “Michael Del Bufalo,” an account that may have been set up for this purpose. The statues were on display within the church along with other Amazon artifacts in celebration of Amazonian indigenous culture.
Pachamama is a supreme goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Amazon. She is the Earth mother and time mother, representing fertility and presiding over sowing and harvest. Her name has become equivalent to “Mother Nature” and her image has become intimately associated with environmental protection.
The video shows two men entering the church early in the morning around sunrise on October 21, 2019, and taking the statues. They then calmly walk down via della Conciliazione toward Ponte St. Angelo, the bridge that connects the city of Rome to Vatican City and placing the five wooden statues on the bridge railing. They then proceed to throw them in the river one by one.
The controversy began several weeks ago when ultra-conservative Catholic leaders accused the Amazon Synod’s agenda as heretical because of its regard, even deference, to indigenous spirituality. When Pope offered a prayer service in the Vatican gardens featuring the Pachamama statues, their criticism turns to scorn accusing the Vatican of venerating Pagan idols.
The act of removing the statues and throwing them in the river is a culmination of their anger.
But the video and act have been met with outrage. One person using the handle “St. Mark the Evangelist” wrote, “God bless you for this courageous act of true faith.” One response in Italian responded, “You are the worst of the worst.”
Many Catholics, nonetheless, offered support for the acts of the two men and stated their solidarity with the destruction of the statues.
Author Taylor Marshal, Ph.D., a Catholic author with the New Saint Thomas Institute quickly announced on his YouTube channel, “It is with great joy that Pachamama idols that polluted the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina have been destroyed. They have been thrown into the Tiber River. The river where our first Pope, St. Peter, was baptized; the first Catholics, the first Christians, in the city of Rome.” Taylor continues to comment that such destruction of Pagan idols is consistent Catholic Christian patrimony, the history of the Church, and the acts of prophets and saints such as Elijah, Saint Benedict, and Saint Boniface.
Catholic Citizens of Illinois wrote, “Pachamama sleeps with the fishes.”
Father James Martin, SJ tweeted, “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.”
Nevertheless, he was met with responses of support for the violence. One follower responded, “I’m a Catholic from the Amazon and I say: all we want is Catholic tradition, not this paganism! Pachamma [sic] is a demon, not Holy Mary. This man didn’t offend us, he represents us!”
Through various channels, the Vatican, however, has taken a different stance, addressing the Pachamama violence.
It accused ultra-conservative Catholic social media of fomenting hate. The Vatican’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, said: “In the name of tradition and doctrine, an effigy of maternity and the sacredness of life was dumped in contempt.” He then added that the destruction of the Pachamama statues was a “violent and intolerant gesture” and that the perpetrators had “passed from hate on social media to action.” He referred to the conservatives as “the new iconoclasts” and added the news reports on Catholic news services stating approval or that “Justice had been served” were shocking.
Fr Giacomo Costa, a synod spokesman, said that the image is not evil, “It is an indigenous woman who represents life…it is a feminine figure” and it is “neither pagan nor sacred.”
Synod leader and Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM) president Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, has condemned the treatment of the statues as an act of violence. In a statement, REPAM said, “We deeply regret and at the same time denounce that in recent days we have been victims of acts of violence, which reflect religious intolerance, racism, oppressive attitudes, which affect above all indigenous peoples, a refusal to build new roads for the renewal of our Church.”
The statement added, “We must warn that these acts can be repeated or become more serious and generate worse effects. Our presence and our initiatives have always been peaceful, we have always been in a position of prayer and invoking the action of the Spirit in this synodal process. We will not respond to these attitudes of violence and in this evangelical fidelity we recognize and respect diversity in other expressions of the encounter with Christ.”
REPAM is a Catholic Church network composed of religious and laity promoting the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.
There have been various reports that the Vatican is pressing charges against the perpetrators. However, none of these reports have been confirmed. Sources in the Vatican have denied that they are specifically seeking charges. One source noted that this is a matter for the civilian government.
Meanwhile, Pagan Pride Italia has started a petition for the removal of the video along with other videos discussing and showing the Pachamama theft. They noted, “All these videos incite hatred towards pagan and native religions practiced by millions of people around the world: therefore we ask that YouTube work to remove all these videos and make sure they are not posted again on other channels under different titles.”
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the violence. The statues have not yet been retrieved.