31 October 2019, The Tablet

The Amazon Synod: desecration of Indigenous statues and the role of icons

The Amazon Synod: desecration of Indigenous statues and the role of icons

The attempted destruction of indigenous Amazonian statues highlights the tensions that surrounded last month’s synod. A leading missiologist welcomes Pope Francis’ call for the Church to return to its roots, with pastoral practice, worship and spirituality shaped by the desire to evangelise

When several indigenous Amazonian statues were filmed being stolen from the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, close to St Peter’s, and thrown into the River Tiber, reaction was divided. Some conservative Catholics applauded the destruction of “pagan idols”. Jamie Manson, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, called the incident a “desecration”, an “act of religious violence”, a “crime”, an “act of terrorism” that “was also profoundly racist and misogynist”. The statues were later recovered, and Pope Francis apologised to Amazonian bishops and tribal leaders, dismissing allegations that the wooden statues were pagan symbols and saying they had been placed in the church “without any intention of idolatry”.

Let’s consider the attempted destruction of the statues theologically, historically, and pastorally/missiologically. First, do the perpetrators’ actions rest on firm theological foundations? The Incarnation is one of the central doctrines of Christianity. It is a scandalous idea. It seems to compromise the absolute transcendence of God, who could surely never become part of Creation, or take on a human body. But this is precisely the point of God becoming human.

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