Ecuadorian Bishops Call Out Political Hijacking of the Pope’s Visit

Pope Francis is expected to arrive in Quito on July 5, 2015. (Periodista Digital)
Pope Francis is expected to arrive in Quito on July 5. (Periodista Digital)

EspañolThe first visit of Pope Francis to Ecuador is coming up, and the administration of President Rafael Correa is rolling out the red carpet. On Thursday, May 28, the National Communications Secretariat (Secom) released what may or may not be the official logo of the Argentinean pontiff’s visit, scheduled for July 5-8.

The logo, which reads “Pope Francis in Ecuador: Welcome to the country that loves life,” depicts the spiritual leader’s smiling face in the middle of a multicolored circle — bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ecuador’s new tourist branding strategy.

Logo for the Papal visit released by President Rafael Correa's government, resembling Ecuador's country brand. (Papa Francisco en Ecuador)
Logo for the Papal visit released by President Rafael Correa’s government, resembling Ecuador’s country brand. (Papa Francisco en Ecuador)

“The colors can be identified with the diversity of Ecuador, not only reflected in the culture and traditions of its people, but also in the characteristic natural environment of the country,” Secom trilled in a press release.

The government has meanwhile launched a website, as well as accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all dedicated to the brief pontifical presence in the Andean nation. Pope Francis will subsequently visit Bolivia and Paraguay, in a whistle-stop tour that will see him back in Rome by July 12.

But beneath the smiles there appears to be a struggle over marketing rights between Ecuador’s Catholic Church and the Correa administration.

According to an agreement signed between Secom and the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference, the latter holds copyright on the image and the words of His Holiness during his apostolic visit to Ecuador.

The organization representing Ecuador’s bishops has thus already released another “official” logo several weeks ago — this one featuring the national colors of yellow, blue, and red, and the slogan “To evangelize with joy.”

Father César Piechestein, Conference spokesman for the Papal visit, shared the image via Facebook on April 16.

The logo’s meaning, Ecuador’s prelates have explained, is that “the visit of Pope Francisco compels the Church in Ecuador to take the attitude of going out and proclaiming Jesus Christ (represented by the cross) to everyone (the world).”

“The year 2015, which frames these elements, indicates this time of hope for the Church in our country,” the explanation continues.

Logo released by the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference and approved by the Holy See. (Jesuitas Ecuador)
The logo released by the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference and approved by the Holy See. (Jesuitas Ecuador)

In the face of an apparent contradiction, the PanAm Post contacted Piechestein to clarify which is the official image of the Papal visit to Ecuador.

The spokesman responded that the only legitimate logo is that issued by the Episcopal Conference in April.

“For all apostolic visits there is an official logo, proposed by the country’s Episcopal Conference, that has to be approved by the Holy See in order to be declared as the official logo. That is the process that was followed with ours,” he said.

“The other logo, which they call official, is just an initiative by the government. There’s nothing official on it and it has not been approved by the Holy See,” Piechestein added.

“One Lord, one faith, one church, and one official logo. Join the campaign and retweet.”

Holy Daze

César Navas, Ecuador’s Minister of Security, suggested on Monday that Correa may decree the duration of Pope Francis’ visit to Quito and Guayaquil a national holiday, in order to encourage mass attendance at the ceremonies.

In an interview with Radio Pública, Navas announced that “flexible schedules” will be applied in schools and public institutions to facilitate the presence of the faithful at two open-air masses.

However the Ministry of Security subsequently released a statement to clarify that the minister “had not stated that there would be a holiday during the visit of Pope Francis, but only flexibility on the days of the large assemblies.”

For filmmaker and journalist Carlos Andrés Vera, the Correa administration is taking advantage of the Papal visit in order to generate much-needed political capital.

In an interview with the PanAm Post, Vera argued that the logo promoted by the government for the occasion amounts to little more than propaganda.

“They’ve adapted the country branding that the government created, and all public officials wear, to the pope’s face. Can there be any doubt? The only question is if the Church is going to allow it, and all indications are that it will,” Vera said.

According to the documentary maker, the pontiff’s visit is being politicized because “the government is facing its worst crisis since it came to power.”

“The decline in Correa’s credibility and public image isn’t dramatic, but it has been constant for almost a year. The government hopes to reduce or reverse this trend by taking advantage of a figure like the pope,” he added.

“Politically, Correa will score some points while the memory of the papal visit remains. But the country’s problems will then return to the headlines: social security debt, the appropriation of private funds, low investment, new taxes, and so on. The government doesn’t seem to have enough intelligence to solve these problems, and Correa’s fall will continue,” Vera predicted.

The journalist also raised concerns about Correa’s alleged violation of Ecuador’s official secular character in order to draw political benefit from the papal visit.

“Institutionally, Ecuador’s secular constitution is not worth the paper it’s written on, ” Vera concluded.

Update: 8 p.m. EDT, June 7, 2015.

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