Pope Francis was none to impressed when Bolivian President Evo Morales handed him a crucifix mounted on a carved wooden hammer and sickle during an official gift-exchange ceremony in La Paz today. His response, captured above: "That's not right."
Morales, it seemed, had assumed that because Francis has embraced a message of social and economic justice, he would also be willing to embrace communism itself. But the pope was noticeably distressed when he first saw the gift, and looked embarrassed and uncomfortable as Morales spoke during the exchange.
Morales later explained that the figurine was a replica of a similar crucifix made by Father Luis Espinal, a Jesuit priest who was kidnapped and murdered by Bolivian death squads in 1980. The pope had honored Espinal earlier in his visit, stopping to deliver a prayer at the site of his assassination, in remembrance of "a brother of ours, the victim of those who did not want him to fight for freedom in Bolivia."
But despite that history, it's hard not to see the crucifix as an attempted "gotcha" moment by Morales, an effort to force the pope into publicly embracing a symbol that literally fused Catholicism and communism. That's in keeping with Morales's brash and often extreme approach to leftist politics. But it is not in keeping with Pope Francis's approach, which has avoided political ideology in favor of a broader, more pragmatic message of social justice and economic equality.