Pachamama – Paganism in the Church?

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Some conservative Roman Catholics have displayed quite some anger and frustration over the use of some indigenous statues of a highly pregnant naked woman in some quasi-religious ceremonies and a display in a church, in the context of the Synod of the Amazon in Rome;
a couple of men, believing the statues to be pagan idols, felt led to clandestinely remove them from the church and throw them in the Tiber, posting a video of their action on social media.

Fundamentalist Baptist turned Anglican turned Roman Catholic priest and blogger Dwight Longenecker weighs in on the controversy in a blog post where he looks at seven different options for explaining these statues.

He expresses his personal conviction that option seven best describes the facts:

“The statues were actually idols representing the earth mother goddess Pachamama. She is worshipped with pagan rituals all across South America. They way they worship her is pagan. They present offerings to her, light candles, and make prayers to her asking for protection, prosperity, peace and good luck. The ritual in the Vatican garden and in St Maria Transpontina showed all the evidence of pagan ceremonies. This is in direct contradiction to the Catholic faith and it should have been corrected and excluded from a Catholic church. If the ceremonies were not pagan in their intent and practice, then clarification and explanation should have been provided so the faithful who do not understand Amazonian culture would not be scandalized.”

I tend to agree with his assessment, but the problem which he does not address at all is this:

What he describes as a “pagan” way to worship the earth mother goddess Pachamama so very closely resembles the way many faithful Catholics all over the world, including clergy all the way up to the pope, “venerate” Mary, the mother of Jesus.

They present offerings to her (Pope Francis, the day after his election, took her some flowers), light candles to her, and make prayers to her asking for protection, prosperity, peace and good luck.

I know, I know, biblically and theologically literate Catholics will stress that they don’t worship Mary, they merely venerate her; however, if something looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck it’s not much use insisting that it really is a chicken.

This is why conservative Catholic angst about these statues in Rome strikes me, as an Evangelical believer from a Catholic background, and with a lot of good will towards the Catholic church, as somewhat incongruous.

I note that the Eastern churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, who also venerate the mother of Jesus as well as other saints, do not use statues; while they do use icons these are very stylized rather than realistic and life-like (unlike the images in Roman Catholicism); they are more symbols than images and thus, in my view at least, are not nearly as problematic. The Eastern churches, even though they call Mary Theotokos (God-Bearer or Mother of God, a title meant to say more about Jesus than about His mother), do not have nearly the same excessive Marian piety as the Roman church.

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