The painting, ‘Mama’ by iconographer Kelly Latimore, evokes the Christian imagery of Pieta, showing the Virgin Mary mourning with the dead body of Jesus in her arms. Latimore’s version depicts the two as black people, and Jesus has the features of Floyd. The Catholic University of America (CUA) welcomed a print of the image at its School of Law in May, putting it on display at Mary Mirror of Justice Chapel, but the decision proved controversial.
“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 CUA told conservative news website The Daily Signal. “It is just another symptom of the liberalization and secularization of our campus.”
The report cited several people unhappy with the presence of the image at the campus, though most of them asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal. They said speaking against it publicly would expose them to accusations of racism.
Critics who agreed to be named in the report include Blayne Clegg, a sophomore student and former president of College Republicans, a GOP student body, and Jared Jagiello, a member of the university’s Student Government Association.
“George Floyd is not Jesus Christ,” Clegg was cited as saying. “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.”
The Daily Signal said it reviewed a video of the May welcoming ceremony, which has since been made private. In it, Father Jude DeAngelo, university chaplain and the director of Campus Ministry, called on God “to sanctify and bless this icon which we will use in the adoration of the Blessed Mother,” as he sprinkled it with holy water, the report said. The university told the outlet that the print depicted Mary and Jesus.
Another print of the same painting reportedly hangs in the offices of Campus Ministry in Caldwell Hall, the outlet said, citing a source.
Latimore is famous for using Orthodox Christian iconography in depicting famous public figures, whom he perceives as moral examples to emulate rather than saints to venerate. Many of his subjects were prominent figures in the civil rights movement like Martin Luther King Jr. or simply promoted acceptance and love, like cherished kids show host Fred Rogers.
The Catholic Church has been quite appreciative of his work. The painting ‘Refugees: La Sagra-da Familia’, depicting Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as refugees from Latin America, was picked for the cover of ‘A Stranger and You Welcomed Me’, the book penned by Pope Francis in support of refugees.
‘Mama’ was painted by Latimore in June 2020 at the request of his partner and in direct response to the mass protest-triggering police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He said in an April interview that he prefers to respond “Yes,” when asked whether the dead person in his work is Jesus or Floyd.
“This nonanswer frustrated the hell out of a lot of people,” he said. “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.”
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