The Slatest

Pope Calls Hammer-and-Sickle Crucifix “Protest Art,’ Says It Didn’t Offend Him

Bolivian president Evo Morales handing Pope Francis a communist crucifix on July 8.
Bolivian president Evo Morales with Pope Francis on July 8.

Photo courtesy Bolivian Presidency/Handout via Reuters

Pope Francis told reporters on a flight to Rome that he was not offended by the seemingly Soviet-themed crucifix Bolivian president Evo Morales gave him during his visit to the country last week—a gift the pope seemed briefly taken aback by when it was handed to him—saying he understands the item as “an expression of protest art.”

The crucifix was made by Spanish Jesuit priest Luis Espinal, who was murdered by paramilitary forces tied to Bolivia’s dictatorship in 1980. Pope Francis, also a Jesuit, said he was familiar with Espinal, the ideas of liberation theology, and the context in which the crucifix was made—a time of numerous leftwing Latin American revolutions against oppressive rightwing regimes. (During his time in Bolivia, the pope met with grassroots political groups and denounced the excesses of a global capitalism that “condemns and enslaves” people, particularly the poor.) His comments were similar in tone to earlier remarks by a Vatican spokesman, who said on July 8 that the pope was told after being given the crucifix that Espinal had made it “in the spirit of dialogue between ideologies, not as an endorsement of Communism”

Bolivia’s government said the gift was not a political maneuver, but a symbol Morales thought “the pope of the poor” would appreciate. Francis confirmed that he interpreted the gift as a “gesture of good will” and would be taking the crucifix with him to the Vatican.