When leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales met with Pope Francis yesterday, he gave the pontiff a “communist crucifix”—a carving of Christ crucified on the hammer of a hammer and sickle. Clearly uncomfortable with the blasphemous gesture, Francis shook his head and is reported to have said “No está bien eso” – “This is not ok.”
This particular crucifix is a reproduction of one carved during the 1970s by Fr. Luis Espinal Camps, a Spanish Jesuit who was a missionary in Bolivia and was killed in 1980 by a right-wing paramilitary death squad. One of Espinal’s friends and fellow Jesuits said Espinal’s intent in creating the image was for the church to be in dialogue with Marxism, and that Espinal had altered his crucifix to incorporate the Communists’ most potent symbol: the hammer and sickle.
While we can’t know for sure what Espinal intended his statue to mean, Morales appears to have clearly missed the irony of portraying the symbol of communism as an instrument of death and torture.
While it’s difficult to determine exactly how many people died because of communism, it is estimated that at least 94 million died in China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Eastern Europe, because of the ideology. As John J. Walters notes, during the 20th century “more people died as a result of communism than from homicide (58 million) and genocide (30 million) put together. The combined death tolls of WWI (37 million) and WWII (66 million) exceed communism’s total by only 9 million.”
Because of the number of Christians who were martyred under communist rule, it is perhaps fitting our Lord should be displayed as suffering and dying on this symbol of evil and perverted ideology. The “communist crucifix” is certainly blasphemous, but it also accurately portrays the true meaning of the hammer and sickle.