Stolen statues – and the need for ecological conversion

Last week, at least two conservative protesters crept into the Church of St Mary in Traspontina in Rome at dawn and stole wooden carvings of nude preg

Nov 01, 2019

By Anil Netto
Last week, at least two conservative protesters crept into the Church of St Mary in Traspontina in Rome at dawn and stole wooden carvings of nude pregnant women at the side altars.

One of them even genuflected in the direction of the main altar — after the theft — before they headed for the banks of the Tiber River, where they dumped the statues. The statues were of an indigenous icon, probably symbolising life or fertility, which were being exhibited at events related to the Amazon Synod of Bishops.

Certainly, not everyone is happy with the direction of the Church at the synod and its encounter with indigenous groups, from whom, they probably think, we have nothing to learn. For these conservatives, the last straw was the presence of those statues, which they probably regarded as idolatrous.

But they miss the point. There is much that the world can learn from the indigenous groups. These groups have a different world view that doesn’t put the Market, Money and Profits above all else.

Rather, the indigenous world view incorporates nature, the natural order and brings them closer to the divine, as they know it. For them, everything is interrelated, interconnected. Unlike materialistic, capitalistic societies around the world, the indigenous also value community solidarity and social relations.

Last week, we discussed the rise of the neoliberal model and how it treats the Market as  supreme. The neoliberal agenda is obsessed with capital accumulation and profit maximisation at the Altar of Greed.

Indeed, if there is anything idolatrous in contemporary society, the worship of Markets, Money, Profits, Selfish Individualism and Apathy must surely rank high.

The result: wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, while others struggle.

The neoliberal agenda frowns on social spending financed by taxes, leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves.

At the same time, there is a countervailing force in society, pushing for market regulation and stronger social protection. This protection is essential to protect the vulnerable from the dictates of the market and exploitation.

In the case of the Amazon, the livelihoods of the indigenous people, their very existence, are under serious threat. Nature and all those living amidst it need to be protected from ruthless exploitation by corporate predators.

Ahead and during the synod, much talk swirled about the possibility of mature married men becoming priests and a greater role  for women, especially in South America.

Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg put things in perspective. We are faced with an existential threat. “If our planet is destroyed, we can shout as much as we want about married priests or women priests, but there will be no priests needed anymore. So it’s the most important problem and it’s a problem of the greatest urgency.”

So what does it mean to be a Christian in  today’s world? The language emerging from certain voices at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon offers food for thought.

Hollerich and at least one other cardinal have called for an “ecological conversion”.

Such a conversion should harmonise with a spiritual conversion.

That said, the Jesuit, whom the Bishop of Rome made a cardinal on the eve of the synod, dropped a hint: “I think the Holy Spirit is working so that women should have a greater say in the Church.”

Women are already performing much of the service and work that deacons do. And then he mused: “If the diaconate is open to women, then you could have women cardinals, if cardinals do not have to be ordained bishops...” but that prospect, he added, was “future music”.

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