On Monday, it was revealed that The Catholic University of America has on display a painting and multiple prints depicting George Floyd as Jesus.
"The icon has no place at The Catholic University of America; it is blasphemous and an offense to the Catholic faith, but it is not surprising at all that it was put there," a junior at Catholic University told The Daily Signal in an email. "It is just another symptom of the liberalization and secularization of our campus."
"There are many students, faculty, and staff who are concerned about this, but there is nothing we can do," the student added, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the university administration. "And if we sound the alarm, we will be labeled racists."
Karna Lozoya, vice president for university communications, told The Daily Signal that artist Kelly Latimore's painting Mama depicts "the Virgin Mary supporting the body of the dead Christ."
"You can identify Jesus by the marks in the halo," she added.
Despite the university deflecting claims that the painting depicts Floyd, Latimore has indicated that it depicts both Floyd and Jesus.
"Following the violent death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Latimore created this icon in June of that year," says a description posted alongside the painting, according to photographs obtained by The Daily Signal.
"The image is evocative of the Pietà—the Mother of Sorrows," the description continues. "May Mary, the Mirror of Justice hear the cry of all who have known the sorrow of losing a loved one to violence and injustice. Amen."
In an interview with The Christian Century, Latimore said that Mama "was commissioned by my partner Evie Schoenherr as a way to mourn George Floyd."
"In my first sketch, Mary was looking at the savior, but we ended up shifting her gaze to the viewer. It was Evie's idea. That subtle shift was powerful. It wasn't focusing on the death, which was horrible, but the viewer, and guiding us to communal thought and prayer and action," he continued.
"There were so many voices that went into that icon. In the Black community, there's dialogue about whether continuously showing dead Black bodies is healthy. I worried about that. But several Black friends of mine told me this was needed—God being present in the dead Black body—as a way to respond so this doesn’t keep happening," Latimore added.
The painting hangs outside the Mary, Mirror of Justice Chapel in Catholic University's Columbus School of Law. It is meant to emulate the statue carved by Italian sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pieta, which depicts Mary holding Jesus Christ after his crucifixion.
Latimore told The Christian Century that he commonly gets asked "is it George Floyd or Jesus?"
"My answer was yes. This nonanswer frustrated the hell out of a lot of people. Again, it's them trying to protect God, and we can be pretty sure that when we try to protect God, we're creating an idol," he said.
He noted that he frequently gets death threats and spiritual denunciations from Eastern Orthodox individuals in Russia and Ukraine regarding Mama.
“Throats will be cut because of this heresy," one said.
"I think it goes without saying that George Floyd didn’t deserve to die, and I sincerely appreciate the efforts of millions of Catholic Americans, who engaged in good-faith advocacy to advance policies that will prevent the use of excessive force by law enforcement," junior politics major and former Catholic University College Republicans President Blayne Clegg told The Daily Signal, who noted though that "George Floyd is not Jesus Christ."
"He is not a saint, nor a martyr, and to, in any way, compare him to the sinless son of Almighty God is to do a damning disservice to the vast majority of Catholics and Catholic theology," Clegg said. "It is damning anywhere, but especially at *THE* Catholic University of America, where this painting was purchased, unveiled, and hung up without input from student leaders."
A student senator representing the university's School of Architecture and Planning, Jared Jagiello, told The Daily Signal that "nobody should be portrayed as Jesus except" Jesus himself.
"It highly disappoints me that someone else is being depicted as Jesus Christ in the Pietà to begin with, [and] being right at the doors of a chapel makes matters worse," Jagiello said in an email.
The painting was unveiled at the conclusion of the university's Black History Month program.
According to the university, "Dean Stephen Payne opened the program, reciting "Solidarity" by Maya Angelou and reminding all that 'diversity is a divine gift we should cherish.' Sister Ruth and Father Jude said a prayer, read from the book of Isaiah, and blessed the new icon with holy water. Professor Regina Jefferson led a call and response that called for the rejection of racism in both its active and passive forms. To conclude, Assistant Dean Shani Butts shared 'I Dream a World' by Langston Hughes."
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