Pachamama and the crisis of fatherhood in the Church today.
Sheila (not her real name) had a very difficult time relating to the image of God as her faithful Father. She could accept God the Father as Creator of all things. But she just could not accept the idea of a Father-God who would remain faithful to her in her trials and difficulties, who would forgive her sins, love her personally, and accept her in her weakness. Hence, she could not bring herself to trust in God. She suffered consistent panic attacks and would find it hard to trust anybody.
She only recently came to discover why she felt that way about God as faithful Father. It was connected to a very painful experience that she had with her father while growing up. She had come home from her high school unexpectedly one morning only to find her father in the arms of a woman who was not her mother. Her father begged her not to reveal his sordid affair with this strange woman to her mother who was out of town then.
Sheila accepted to keep it a secret. She was torn between loyalty to her mother and her father whom she had trusted so much as her faithful father and a loving husband to her mother. No matter the intention of her father for his adulterous act that faithful day, Sheila could hardly look him in the eyes any more or believe what he said to her. She could hardly trust him or his actions again. She also felt she betrayed her mother too. And most importantly, she lost the sense of God as a loving and faithful father who would never do or permit anything to hurt his children.
Sheila’s story is not unique. There are countless stories like hers in which the terrible actions of fathers have tarnished or destroyed the seed of faith of their children in a faithful and personal God, a precious seed that was planted in baptism. The earthly father whose role was to honor and cherish his only wife and to hold her up to his children as their only mother chose rather to bring home a woman whom the children neither knew nor accepted as their mother.
There has been a lot of stories recently of the Pachamama statues that were present at the opening and closing of the just-concluded Amazon Synod in Rome. A viral video showed some of the faithful and religious bowing to these statues at the beginning of the Synod during a ritual in the Vatican Gardens. Some of these statues were placed in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Traspontina. A later viral video shows the same statues being surreptitiously taken from the Church by some men and dumped into the Tiber a few days ago. Pope Francis then apologized to those offended by the act and announced that the statues had been found and would be in the closing mass of the synod.
What exactly are these statues that are causing so much confusion in the Church? Some say Pachamama represents “Mother Earth.” Some say that she is an image of fertility. Some say that she is our Lady of the Amazon. Some say that it is an image of a fertility goddess. Then Pope Francis referred to her as Pachamama.
But Brazilian Bishop Emeritus José Luis Hermoso shed a somber light on the ambivalent nature of these statues when he described them as “scandalous, demonic sacrilege.” He stated that
“Pachamama is not and never will be the Virgin Mary. To say that this statue represents the Virgin is a lie. She is not Our Lady of the Amazon because the only Lady of the Amazon is Mary of Nazareth. Let’s not create syncretistic mixtures. All of that is impossible: the Mother of God is the Queen of Heaven and earth.”
Well, whatever or whoever these statues may be, or what they are called or what they represent, they do not belong in any Catholic Church. Authentic Catholic sensibility cannot accept them in any way as symbolic or expressive of motherhood in the Church. We recognize the Catholic Church as our true Mother, from whom we receive truth and sacramental grace from our birth till death. Catholics look to Mother Mary as the perfect image of the Church, both in her fidelity to Christ during her earthly journey and in her glorious union with Christ in heaven. To try to introduce another pseudo-mother under the guise of Pachamama is an affront on the Catholic faith and an unpardonable lack of sensitivity to Catholic mentality.
In his apology to those who were offended by the dumping of the statues into the Tiber, the Pontiff said that the statues were placed in the Church “without idolatrous intentions.” The intent may not be idolatrous but the action has the same effects as idolatry. The statues fails to uphold that Christ has one bride alone – the Catholic Church. The statues divide and distract from the fidelity that we should have towards God alone in the Church. To insist on having the statues placed in a Church again after they had been removed and dumped into the Tiber is to grossly neglect one’s duty as a father whose role is to point his children in faith towards the Church as her only mother. No matter the intent, imposing these statues wounds our faith and negatively impacts our image of God as a loving and faithful Father who offers us communion with Him in Jesus Christ His Son in and through the Catholic Church.
To further exemplify this crisis in fatherhood in the Church today, prayers are now being offered to Pachamama, prayers being proposed by those pastors who are called by Christ to confirm and strengthen the faithful in their faith. One such prayer is the following prayer published by the Italian Episcopal Conference before the synod:
“Pachamama of these places, drink and eat this offering at will, so that this earth may be fruitful. Pachamama, good Mother, be favorable! Be favorable! Make that the oxen walk well, and that they not become tired. Make that the seed sprout well, that nothing bad may happen to it, that the cold may not destroy it, that it produce good food. We ask this from you: give us everything. Be favorable! Be favorable!”
As a Catholic priest from Africa whose grandfather was a pagan priest, I know very well how prevalent idols were in my native country of Nigeria before the advent of the Christian missionaries. We had idols for fertility, for good crops produces, for vengeance on one’s enemies, for good weather, etc. You name it, we had the idol for that.
I think back in great admiration and gratitude to the missionaries, many of whom were Irish, who evangelized us Africans because these missionaries were spiritual fathers in the truest sense. They had sufficient Catholic sensitivity not to bring any of these our idolatrous statues into a Catholic Church for whatever reason. They courageously demanded that our ancestors completely forsake these statues and to receive baptism into the Church, Christ’s only bride. Our ancestors were also asked to abandon polygamy for monogamy because Christ had only one bride, the Church. They accepted this Christian way of life with great personal costs, even though having many wives and children was seen then as a sign of immense blessing from God.
The missionaries also taught us the beauty of the Catholic faith that was so foreign to us then. They pointed us to Mary, Mother of God, as our Mother in the faith, who gave us life by her fiat at the Annunciation when she brought Jesus Christ into the world. Mary united herself with Jesus on the cross so that we, her children, may have a share in the life of Christ. Mary is also our only Mother who shows us what the Church ought to be in following Christ. The missionaries taught us how to honor Mary in imitation of Christ, imitate her virtues, and pray to her in all our needs.
The awesome thing was that as we followed their teaching in this regard, we began to hear Mary’s voice too telling us, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”(Jn 2:5) We began to forsake our idols and evil practices to embrace the Catholic faith with its demands and joys. Prompted by Mary’s words and examples, many of us embraced the celibate life and Catholic priesthood, completely giving up marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. One cannot speak of the spread of the faith in Africa or the growth of priestly and religious vocation in Africa today without the role of a true devotion to Mary. But once we take our eyes and hearts away from Mary, we lose the sense of the Church as our only mother and then we multiply our idolatrous Pachamamas.
What we need in the Church today is not another mother, whether it is called Pachamama, “Mother earth,” or whatever. We definitely do not need to adopt Pachamamas into the Church. The Church is our Mother already, the only one we have, love, and recognize; and Jesus is not a polygamist!!! We need to bring the fullness of the faith to the world, including the Amazon. Assuredly if we present the fullness of the faith to them, making them look to Mary as their own mother too, her perennial words will echo in their hearts, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” When these words are heeded faithfully, the Christian faith grows and spreads and vocations to the priesthood and religious life thrive as it did in Africa.
What we need are spiritual fathers in the truest sense of the world, i.e. deacons, priests, bishops and hierarchy members who put aside worldly ideologies for the sake of communicating saving truth and grace to the faithful. We need fathers who present the fullness of the faith by words and actions, who strive to safeguard and strengthen the already fragile and wounded faith of the flock entrusted to them. We need fathers who do not live by their own opinions or public opinions, but who echo the words of Jesus, “My teaching is not my own,”(Jn 7:16) and who are ready to point out to all people and all times the one bride of Christ, the Catholic Church.
Until we have such faithful fathers, we will have many more idolatrous pachamamas brought into the Church by our spiritual fathers. Consequently, our faithful will find it hard to look us in the eyes and trust us because we do not show them their one and true mother – the Church, perfectly modeled by Mother Mary. As long as such faithful and prudent fathers are lacking in the Church, it will be difficult if not impossible for many of our faithful to see God as a loving and faithful father.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!