Quite a lot of what is happening at the Synod on the Amazon right now in Rome is shrouded in mystery, since the press is not being allowed to see the texts of synod addresses — even those of Pope Francis. We are left to contemplate the outward spectacle, which started with a strange tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican gardens and continues with processions and displays in St Peter’s and elsewhere. At the ceremony, and in many of these displays, is a figurine of Pachamama, which in the tree-planting seemed to be what various participants were bowing before, while Pope Francis stood in the background.
Heroic efforts have been made to explain Pachamama away. Austen Ivereigh, the papal biographer, declared not only that she was a native representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but that anyone expressing concern about the figurine was racist. It took the Vatican press officers to disabuse him. In a press conference, Bishop David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea of Peru suggested instead:
Probably those who used this symbol demonstrated, wishes to reflect fertility, to women, to life, the life presence among these Amazonian people … and Amazonia is meant to be full of life. I don’t think we need to create any connections with the Virgin Mary or with a pagan element.
On this line of thought, the figurine represents an abstraction, or perhaps a collection of them: ‘fertility’, ‘women’, ‘life’.