LA PAZ, Argentina – Hundreds of Bolivians held a pilgrimage Thursday to protest an artist's rendition of their patron saint wearing red underwear and black stockings.
Artist Rilda Paco has earned some praise, but also faced criticism and even death threats over her painting of the Virgin of Socavon in the mostly Roman Catholic country. The painting shows the virgin in lingerie surrounded by people in colorful costumes who dance with alcohol bottles in their hands at the annual Carnival in the mining city of Oruro.
The protesting faithful attended an outdoor Mass and some dropped to their knees before a religious painting of the virgin at a church in Oruro, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) south of La Paz.
As the faithful sang and prayed, the sun broke out on a rainy day. Oruro Archbishop Cristobal Bialasic called it "a sign of purification before such a serious offense."
The city is home to a statue of the virgin that is nearly 150 feet (45 meters) high — a shade less than New York's Statue of Liberty and 23 feet (seven meters) higher than Rio de Janeiro's image of Christ the Redeemer.
Bolivians pay homage to the Virgin of Socavon during the city's annual Carnival celebrations, which have been recognized as part of the patrimony of humanity by UNESCO. Two deadly explosions shocked Oruro during this year's celebrations.
Paco has said she did not mean to offend anyone with her painting but only wanted to use it as a form of protest.
Carnival is "where you see the largest consumption of alcohol, rapes and violence," she said. "The Virgin is a mother and as mother she is a woman before a saint. Painting her like this denounces how we feel as women when we are victims of harassment, femicide and rape."
Oruro is the capital of President Evo Morales' home province. Oruro Gov. Victor Hugo Vasquez, a member of Morales' ruling party, threatened to sue the artist for offending the virgin.
But Justice Minister Hector Arce defended Paco, saying that "the respect for the freedom of speech and worship should be above our religious beliefs."