A Vatican spokesman said the carved wooden figure seen at various Amazon synod events is not the Virgin Mary, but an “indigenous woman who represents life.”

Earlier this month, Pope Francis participated in a tree-planting ceremony at the Vatican Gardens to place the Amazon synod under the protection of Saint Francis of Assisi. The controversy-drawing ritual featured indigenous Amazonians kneeling and bowing around a carved wooden female fertility figure and images of pregnant women.

Some assumed the figure was the Virgin Mary, others called it the Amazonian pagan goddess “Mother Earth” under the name of “Pachamama”. But yesterday, communications official for the Amazon synod Father Giacomo Costa added clarity to the situation: “It is not the Virgin Mary, who said it is the Virgin Mary?”

“There is nothing to know. It is an indigenous woman who represents life, it is a feminine figure. I think it’s just a female figure that has no sacred value.”

Costa said the figure they bowed and knelt to during the ritual was not “pagan.” Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, agreed with Costa, saying in his personal opinion the figure “represents life.”

“Fundamentally, it represents life. It represents life through a woman.”

Ruffini equated the carved female figure to that of a tree, calling the tree a “sacred symbol.” He added that “we know that some things in history have many interpretations.”

The figure currently resides in the church of Santa Maria in Transpontina, near a controversy-drawing poster thats shows a partially nude Amazonian woman breastfeeding what looks like a badger or a weasel.

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