Latin America & Caribbean

Morales crucifix gift to Pope Francis causes stir

Pope Francis is presented with a gift of a hammer and sickle-shaped crucifix Image copyright AP
Image caption The gift has been condemned as "arrogant" by some in the Catholic community

A crucifix sculpted in the shape of a hammer and sickle presented to Pope Francis in Bolivia has caused a stir among Catholic commentators.

The Pope was given the item, combining Catholic and communist symbols, by left-wing Bolivian President Evo Morales.

One Catholic bishop suggested that Mr Morales had sought to "manipulate God".

But while some reports said the Pope was taken aback by the present, the Vatican has played down any row.

The crucifix was based on a design by Luis Espinal, a Jesuit Priest assassinated in 1980 by right-wing militia.

Bolivia's communications minister, Marianela Paco, told Bolivian radio: "The sickle evokes the peasant, the hammer the carpenter, representing humble workers, God's people," adding there was "no other" motive behind the gift.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Much has been read into the Pope's expression on receiving the gift

There are differing interpretations of Pope Francis' thoughts on it.

Some reports say the Pope was embarrassed, telling Mr Morales: This isn't good".

But the Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said it was more likely Pope Francis had expressed surprise at the origins of the gift.

"I don't think I would put this symbol on an altar in a church however," he added.

The Pope himself has been accused of having Marxist leanings, after mounting strong criticisms of capitalism and inequality.

One of the strongest reactions came from Spanish bishop Jose Ignacio Munilla, who tweeted: "The height of arrogance is to manipulate God for the service of atheist ideologies."

Image copyright @ObispoMunilla

"This is a provocation, a joke" said Bolivian Bishop Gonzalo del Castillo, quoted by the AFP news agency.

There was also anger on the Facebook pages of the Catholic News Agency. "One cannot simply combine Communism and Christianity!" wrote one user.

But one comment read: "This is no insult to Pope Francis, this is in memory of the Jesuit Martyr, who died defending the poor and oppressed of Bolivia."

Pope Francis is now in Paraguay, the third and final country on his tour of Latin America, which ends on Monday.

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