Ellie follows me on social media. She doesn’t like Pope Francis and is always looking for clues that she correlates with her daily overdose injections of LifeSiteNews, Remnant, 1P5, NovusOrdoWatch, Rorate, and Arroyo to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Vicar of Christ is the personification of evil, the devil incarnate, the anti-Christ who has come into the world to destroy it. This was especially true in view of the recent Pan-Amazon synod that took place in Rome last month. Ellie is sometimes annoying but always amusing. However, I realized she might be on to something with her ‘clues’ methodology.

Pope Francis has always insisted on ‘silence’ so we could ‘listen’ to “hear the voice of the Holy Spirit”. It would be so much easier if he just came out and said what he wants us to know.

I remember expressing that same sentiment to one of my high school teachers, a Franciscan nun, who taught the same way as Pope Francis. She wanted her students to be ‘silent’, to ‘listen’, to quietly study and research, to collect information, put the pieces together, formulate a thought, and discover what she already knew.  She wanted us to discover the truth on our own.

“Then it will never leave you. You will never forget,” she said.

It’s the Franciscan way of teaching.  And that might be the first ‘clue’ into deciphering the seeming ‘confusion’ over the true identity of the wood carved, pregnant female statue that appeared in the Vatican Gardens for the Amazon synod’s opening ceremony and now made famous by dissonant voices claiming it’s a pagan idol.  Is the controversial little wooden statue an image of Mother Earth or the Mother of God?

Pope Francis has said there was no idolatry in the Vatican Gardens that day, but we have heard a considerable amount of commentary attempting to refute his claim. He also described the synod’s ‘pachamama’ statue as “a pregnant woman with her son in her womb”, but the commentary on this statement has not been extensive. Yet it appears to be a major ‘clue’ in the mystery of the statue’s identity. Pope Francis just seemed to drop it in the middle of the room and walk away.

Pope Francis thinks ‘these people’, the Catholic indigenous natives of the Amazon, have something to teach us about the ‘pachamama’ statue. He has asked us, the ‘established church’, to listen to them.  As preposterous as that may sound to those who have extensive education and teaching experience in Catholic theology and philosophy, to those who believe it is we who must teach them, the Catholic Amazonians may have knowledge and wisdom beyond what is only available in brick buildings. But we must be silent and listen in order to hear it.

“Our world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking, at a devastating speed and volume, in order to say nothing.” Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence

Much time and effort has gone into ‘proving’ that the statues were graven images. There is even a charge that Pope Francis admitted they were idols by calling them ‘pachamamas’, even though he used the term only because it was the one being used by the media.  So, who exactly is she, this ‘pachamama’, this ‘pregnant woman with her son in her womb’? Pope Francis wants us to discover the truth for ourselves and we begin by asking:

Is there more than one Pachamama?

Secular Figurine

an item found in tourist shops in Manaus, Brazil.

A quick internet search reveals multiple Latin American ‘pachamama’ in varying shapes, sizes, colors, ethnicities, and descriptions. There is no ‘one size fits all’, but every spirituality, be it pagan or New Age, has their own version, yet none resemble the Pachamama displayed at the Pan-Amazon synod in Rome last month.

Those are different from the ones displayed in the actual provenance of the statue: an item found in tourist shops in Manaus, Brazil.

A figure of a pregnant woman with her son in her womb.

Yet even this popular souvenir is different from the ones criminal thieves stole from the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina.

The difference is telling:

Rita Ferrone, writing for Commonweal about the pachamama controversy, noted,

“There are plenty of images of Pachamama, and some show her pregnant, but not one of them looks like the statuette from the Vatican ceremony, whose outstanding qualities are (a) her humility, and (b) the child within her womb, who is visible and depicted with as an individual.” (1)

The Church is clear that,

“the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures” (2)


And a sixteenth century Catholic writer, an indigenous native of Peru, describes the “difficulty of explaining, with only language” his native religion within the context of the Christianity introduced by the Spanish missionaries. He necessitated the “use of images”. (3)

A Priest who had a private conversation with one of the Bishops participating in the Amazon synod shared the Bishop’s remarks with Catholic apologist, Dave Armstrong:

“Pachamama is clearly a Christian adoption of an Indigenous symbol, which follows the Church’s longstanding practice throughout her history of enculturating herself in different cultures by adopting the culture’s symbols and art forms. As such, he had no problem venerating Pachamama as a portrayal of the Blessed Mother, carrying the Divine Child in her womb, while in a posture of prayer.” (4)

So, who is Pachamama?

We find her from Genesis to Revelation.

In the Franciscan tradition it is proposed that God, in announcing the Incarnation to the angels, showed them an image of Mary, Immaculate Conception, God-bearer, the ‘Woman’ of Gen 3:15, a “pregnant woman with her Son in her womb”, whose seed would crush the head of the serpent. Lucifer, filled with rage upon seeing God’s plan of the creation and predestination of Mary Theotokos, together with the predestination of Christ, in one and the same divine decree, rejected the reality to come in the fullness of time and with his hate filled exclamatory, ‘Non serviam!’, he became the serpent, and was thrust into hell  Rev 12:1.

The Psalmist declares in 8:4-5,

What is man that thou art mindful of him,

and the son of man that thou dost care for him?

Yet thou hast made him little less than the angels,

and dost crown him with glory and honor.

Lucifer, the Angel of Light, the Morning Star, in his prideful arrogance and pomposity, refused to accept the will of God that man, not angels, would be crowned with God’s honor and glory. He hated the prophecy that a human female would become the brighter Morning Star. A creature whose nature was less than his, would become the Theotokos.

The world seems to be going through a similar rejection of God’s supreme authority today. We look to Saint Michael the Archangel, who with the rest of the angels, praised God and prostrated before the vision, adoring ‘the Son in the womb of the pregnant Woman’. He did not worship the Woman, yet he realized it was not two separate visions but one: the Woman and the seed in her womb.

There is no more fitting image to teach this doctrine of the beautiful, primitive, image of God-created feminine humanity-before-the-Fall. In humble posture, naked and stripped of all vanity and worldliness, caressing the Divine Child within her womb, and presenting Him to the world so in need of His mercy. Pachamama is the reality of the Incarnation. Rome’s churches are full of masterpiece paintings of the naked Child Jesus in His Mother’s arms showing the same: the reality of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity become man – through a Woman.

The journey to the Amazon synod began, for Pope Francis, in 2017, when he attended the Conference of Bishops of Latin America. One year later, in 2018, he made an official pastoral visit, becoming the first Pope to visit the Amazon region. Not coincidentally, Pope Francis began to bring the Church along with him on this journey in the Province of ‘Madre de Dios’ (Mother of God) in Peru. He continues thisjourney in 2019 at the end of the synod, in Rome, by giving the Mother of God a new title.

Pope Francis has given us the identity of Pachamama. He said she is the ‘Woman with her Son in her womb’ and he declared her “Our Lady, Queen of the Amazon” at the conclusion of the synod.

This is Franciscan theology, going back to Saint Francis himself, who praised God for, “Sister Earth, our Mother”, in his Canticle of Creation, on which Pope Francis based his Encyclical, Laudato Si.  Is Pope Francis reviving the ‘Scotism vs Thomism’ debate on the Immaculate Conception which the Church has, thus far, settled only in part?

The work of the Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus, presents the predestination of Christ and the Immaculate Conception as a single divine decree. He proposes that Christ would have come into the world ‘born of a woman’ even if there had been no original sin. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, admits of this possibility, recognizing that nothing is impossible to God, but draws his position from revelation that the original sin was the ‘reason’ for the Incarnation. (6)

Maybe it’s time to take up the discussions again. We can begin by repeating the cry of another Scotist, Saint Maximilian Kolbe – “Who art thou, O Immaculata?”




  1. A Hermeneutic of Suspicion: Pope Francis’ Critics and the Amazon statues, Rita Ferrone, Nov 4, 2019
  2. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 20
  3. Santa Cruz Pachacuti, Relación de antigüedades de este reyno del Pirú, p. 85
  4. “Pachamama” Fiasco: Hysterical Reactionaryism, as Usual, Dave Armstrong
  5. Summa, Part III Question 1, Article 3.




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Toni Vercillo is a cradle Catholic born and raised before Vatican II. She was educated by the Franciscans in Latin language, literature, music and liturgy. She has a devotion to Franciscan spirituality. In the past, Toni worked as a journalist for the Catholic Northwest Progress. She has been published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Catholic Digest, Queen Magazine, and St. Anthony Messenger, among others. Presently, she is a wife, mother, grandmother, and retired Catholic bookstore owner.

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