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ROME – Archbishop Francisco Perez of Pamplona has condemned the violence that took place at the city’s main religious festival, which is famous for its traditional running of the bulls. The festival returned this year after a two-year absence due to COVID-19.
The celebrations for the festival of San Fermín, the patron saint of Spain’s Navarre region, began July 6 and will continue until July 14 at midnight.
Following the Mass that opened the nine-day festival, several members of city government taking part in a procession, marked with the image of San Fermin, were met by several dozen people demanding the ouster of the government. The protesters threw stones and glass bottles towards those leading the procession.
Perez condemned the events, saying that it is “regrettable that members of public institutions, representing the city of Pamplona, or ecclesiastical institutions are attacked and insulted, and that those who protect them have to suffer such an expression of hatred and violence.”
Three police officers were injured in the incident.
“To the authorities of the city, the Municipal Police and the health workers I want to thank them for their dedication and generosity and encourage them to continue in the work they do,” the archbishop said in a statement released Friday, which also expressed his gratitude for “the work of so many people who have made possible today the procession of San Fermin, on the biggest day of a universal celebration.”
The running of the bulls takes place at 8 a.m. each day of the festival, along a narrow half-mile street. The route is different than the procession with the statue of San Fermín on Thursday.
Every year, an average of 200-300 people are injured during the runs in the city’s historic center narrow streets. At least 16 people have lost their lives in the last century by being gored, trampled, or falling.
Bishop José Ignacio Munilla, from the diocese of Orihuela-Alicante went to Twitter to condemn the violence, saying that the image of Perez holding the rosary was a big contrast with what happened.
“It is enough to observe the #Rosary that the Archbishop of Pamplona carries in his hand… and compare it with the glasses of alcohol that those who are drunk with hatred wield on high… Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing! Thank you for your testimony of meekness, Don Francisco.”
This year, the chupinazo rocket that marks the start of the nine-day festival was dedicated to the healthcare workers who took care of the population during the pandemic, as well as people suffering from ALS.
During his homily before the procession, Perez alluded to “so many good people who have been there in silence helping” during the pandemic, and prayed for “God to continue to watch over the people of Pamplona and not to give up in continuing to show the greatness of believing in Christ, in his Gospel and in his Church.”
“A society that marginalizes God is a society doomed to total failure and is heading towards starvation,” said the prelate, urging those present to be “defenders of life, defenders of right morals, justice and truth in all its nuances.”
To this he added that “the closure to all revelation from above, and therefore to faith, is not caused by intelligence, but by pride. God manifests himself in the simple-hearted, not in the arrogant, proud and knowledgeable.”
Close to a million people attend the festival every year, though fewer than 15,000 people choose to take part in the running of the bulls, which have long been protested by animal rights’ organizations.