JerusalemPope Francis’ trip to South American took an unexpected turn when Bolivia’s populist Socialist Evo Morales tried to present him a gift of a carved Jesus crucified on a hammer and sickle.

Unexpected.

Whoops. The Pope looked confused at the offering and said in Spanish, “This is not good.”

Later, a papal spokesman said that the item was supposed to be a replica of a relic carved by a Jesuit priest, Luis Espinal,  killed in 1980 by right-wing paramilitaries in Bolivia. The Pope didn’t make the connection, and in any case, the Christ on a symbol conceived during the Russian Revolution was not one he is likely to embrace.

Francis has gone far to revive the reputation of clergy and believers who opposed right wing governments in the 1980s–and suffered for it. He put Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the archbishop who in 1980 was gunned down by rightist gunmen while he celebrated Mass in San Salvador, on the road to sainthood. He has taken social positions far to the left of his two fervently anti-Communist predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In the 1980s, Benedict, who was at the time Vatican enforcer of orthodoxy, cracked down on Latin bishops for their social stands.

A gift of hammer and sickle? Francis’ ideological enemies will certainly see it as a negative symbol of his politics.

Here’s the account of gift from Catholic News Agency, with video.

Incident will probably overshadow his main message in Bolivia.

A BBC article on the murdered Jesuit priest, Luis Espinal (in Spanish).

Extra credit: Music, Catholicism and Francis’ visit.

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