Vatican City — Responding to waves of controversy after receiving a “communist crucifix” – a carving of Christ crucified on a hammer and sickle – from Bolivian president Evo Morales, Pope Francis said he took no offense, but understands the work as “protest art.”
“I would qualify it as protest art, which in some cases can be offensive,” the Pope said during an inflight news conference on his July 12 overnight flight from Paraguay to Rome.
But given the context of this piece of art, he added that he understands the idea behind the crucifix, and “for me it wasn’t an offense.”
He recalled an exhibition in Buenos Aires several years ago in which an Argentinian artist he described as “a good sculptor, creative,” and who is now deceased, made a similar piece depicting a crucified Christ on an airplane.
“It was protest art, and I recall one, it was a crucified Christ on a bombardier (airplane) that was falling down, no? It’s Christianity, but a criticism that let’s say Christianity allied with imperialism which is the bombardier.”
The crucifix, which the Pope revealed was traveling with him back to Rome, was given to him by leftist Bolivian Evo Morales on Thursday, sparking controversy, reported Ewtn News.
The cross with a hammer and sickle is a reproduction of another carved during the 1970s by Fr. Luis Espinal Camps, a Spanish Jesuit who was a missionary in Bolivia who was killed in 1980 during the Bolivian dictatorship.
The Pope’s reaction after receiving the crucifix has been a source of debate since the audio of the video is marred due to the clicking of journalists’ cameras.
Francis said that he had been unaware that Fr. Espinal, in addition to his work as a journalist, was also a sculptor and a poet.
He noted that during his life, Fr. Espinal had sympathies with the Marxist interpretation of Liberation Theology, which at that time was widely popular in South America.
It was criticized both within the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), to which both Pope Francis and Fr. Espinal belong, in 1980, and later in by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in their first declaration on Liberation Theology, in 1984.
Taking a “hermeneutic” approach to the crucifix – one that involves an interpretive act of understanding with an emphasis on dialogue – the Pope made an analysis of the times, saying that Fr. Espinal “was an enthusiast of this analysis of the Marxist reality, but also of theology using Marxism.”
It was from this perspective that Espinal created the work, he said, noting that the priest’s poetry was also “of this kind of protest.”
“But, it was his life, it was his thought. He was a special man, with so much human geniality, who fought in good faith, no?”