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UPDATE: This report has been updated here in light of new details.
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia, July 10, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis was made the center of a pro-communist propaganda photo op yesterday when leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales gave him a hammer and sickle disguised as a crucifix.
The hammer and sickle is the symbol of Marxist Communism, a Church-condemned ideology responsible for the murder of more than 100 million people in the last century. President Morales is the leader of Bolivia's Movement for Socialism party and has often clashed with the clergy in the historically Catholic country, which has steadily been moving leftward politically since Morales took over in 2006.
As seen in the video, President Morales first puts onto the Pope a neck-piece showing Christ fixed onto the Communist symbol, but the Holy Father doesn't appear to see the symbol. It seems as if the Bolivian president is careful to put it around the Pope's neck before the pontiff is able to take a look, so that he doesn't have a chance to object. Once it's on, Morales then adjusts it to ensure it's visible to the crowd of photographers.
Then the final "gift" — the "crucifix" without a cross — is unveiled.
When Pope Francis first sees it, he appears stunned, arguably even put off. Some reports claim he says, "That is not right." The Vatican's official spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, suggests otherwise. He believes the Pope likely responded, "I didn't know that," after Morales told him who made the piece.
The Vatican spokesman insists the so-called crucifix "was not ideological" and that it wasn't "a Marxist interpretation of the Faith." Instead, he points out that the model's designer, Fr. Luis Espinal Camps, intended it as a call for open dialogue between Christianity and Marxism.
Father Espinal was a Spanish Jesuit doing missionary work and pro-democracy activism in Bolivia. He was killed in 1980 amid the dictatorship there at the time. Father Lombardi says the pseudo-crucifix was created as "an expression of what Father Espinal was living" during his years under the Bolivian dictatorship.
Pope Francis thus far has offered no clarification on the international controversy; however, he has in the past stated, "Marxist ideology is wrong."