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Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales has given a crucifix sculpted in the shape of a hammer and sickle to Pope Francis during his visit to Bolivia.

The gift combining Catholic and communist symbols has caused a stir among Catholic commentators.

One Catholic bishop suggested that Evo Morales had sought to “manipulate God”.

While some reports said Pope Francis was taken aback by the present, the Vatican has played down any row.

The crucifix was based on a design by Luis Espinal, a Jesuit Priest assassinated in 1980 by right-wing militia.

Bolivia’s communications minister, Marianela Paco, told Bolivian radio: “The sickle evokes the peasant, the hammer the carpenter, representing humble workers, God’s people.”Pope Francis gifted Communist crucifix in Bolivia

She added there was “no other” motive behind the gift.

There are differing interpretations of Pope Francis’ thoughts on it.

Some reports say Pope Francis was embarrassed, telling Evo Morales: “This isn’t good.”

However, the Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said it was more likely Pope Francis had expressed surprise at the origins of the gift.

“I don’t think I would put this symbol on an altar in a church however,” he added.

Pope Francis himself has been accused of having Marxist leanings, after mounting strong criticisms of capitalism and inequality.

One of the strongest reactions came from Spanish bishop Jose Ignacio Munilla, who tweeted: “The height of arrogance is to manipulate God for the service of atheist ideologies.”

“This is a provocation, a joke” said Bolivian Bishop Gonzalo del Castillo, quoted by the AFP news agency.

There was also anger on the Facebook pages of the Catholic News Agency.

Pope Francis is now in Paraguay, the third and final country on his tour of Latin America, which ends on July 13.

A man has died in northern Italy after being crushed by a crucifix erected in honor of Pope John Paul II.

Marco Gusmini, 21, was killed instantly and one other man taken to hospital, Italian media reported.

Part of the 100ft-high sculpture collapsed at a ceremony ahead of the Pope’s canonization.

Pope John Paul II and his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, are due to be declared saints on Sunday.

Pope John Paul II crucifix in Cevo commemorates the pontiff's visit to the area in 1998

Pope John Paul II crucifix in Cevo commemorates the pontiff’s visit to the area in 1998 (photo Elena Gianni)

The crucifix commemorates the Pope’s visit to the area in 1998.

The installation, near the town of Cevo, was designed as a large curved cross with a statue of Jesus Christ, weighing 1,320lb, fixed to the top.

A group of children were reported to be in attendance at the time.

The cross was designed by sculptor Enrico Job and was created for John Paul II’s visit to nearby Brescia.

The two popes will be declared saints at the Vatican on Sunday.

It is not the first death caused by a falling crucifix in Italy.

In 2004, the Associated Press reported that a 72-year old woman had been crushed to death by a 7ft-tall metal crucifix in the town of Sant’Onofrio in the south of Italy.