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Philippine Church bans ivory statues

MANILA (UCAN): Priests in The Philippines have been asked to stop installing new statues or images made out of ivory as objects of veneration in their churches.

The bishops’ conference issued a directive on November 4 prohibiting priests from blessing any new statue, image or object of devotion that is made of or crafted from ivory, or incorporates any material from endangered or protected wildlife in its manufacture.

“No matter the beauty of a work of art, it cannot justify the slaughter of wildlife,” the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said.

He also urged the bishops to enforce the directive adding that any gift of a new religious object made from ivory should neither be accepted nor blessed.

Archbishop Villegas cited the relation between the defence of biodiversity and Christian spirituality in Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’).

“Everything is interconnected and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity,” Archbishop Villegas said, quoting from the encyclical.

He added, “The Church in The Philippines is very concerned that not enough dimension is given to this very important aspect of spirituality.” He then pointed out that local species, including those unique to The Philippines, are badly neglected in the country and poaching is rampant.

“Our seas and waters are overfished. Wildlife is surreptitiously traded—because there are both buyers and sellers,” he added, saying that the Catholic Church must do its part.

“Every instance of beauty is a reflection of the infinite beauty of the creator. We cannot, without offending the creator, deface his creation,” Archbishop Villegas said.

Nevertheless, he conceded that ivory statues and images, as well as objects made from materials derived from other protected and endangered species that have been in use for centuries should be safeguarded.

In 2012, the bishops supported calls for a ban on ivory to help save the lives of elephants after reports linked a priest in Cebu, Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, to the illegal ivory trade emerged. He was acquitted two years later for lack of evidence.

In 2013, The Philippines destroyed an estimated five tons of seized elephant ivory valued at US$10 million ($77.45 million), after world attention was drawn to a leakage of ivory from government-held stockpiles.

The Philippines is among nine countries and territories considered most heavily implicated in the ivory trade. It has been identified as a transit point for ivory originating from Africa or elsewhere in Asia heading to markets in China.


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