ROME – Despite knowing that religious ceremonies that lasted more than 30 minutes and included more than 20 people in his diocese were banned due to Argentina’s second COVID-19 wave, a local priest on Saturday challenged both his bishop and civil authorities by holding a First Communion Mass in an open-air space with close to 100 participants.
The incident took place in the Diocese of Lomas de Zamora, in the greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area.
The priest justified his decision by arguing that he had “read in the newspaper” that the latest measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the state of Buenos Aires, by far Argentina’s most populated region, allowed for 30 percent occupancy.
According to Father Tito Robles math, the outdoor space where he celebrated the Mass could hold 400 people, and there were less than 120, which would be less than the 30 percent supposedly allowed. However, he ignored the fact that the cap is for indoor events, while outdoor gatherings had a 20-person cap, beginning April 30. The event took place May 1.
Regulations to stop the spread of COVID-19 have been changing regularly in Argentina, with schools open one week and closed the next.
The weekend when the first Communion was celebrated was one of “transition,” so it is possible the priest had organized the event with the hope restrictions would ease by that date.
The police were called in by neighbors who saw the gathering. The events were caught on video, and quickly went viral, particularly the part when the priest raises his hands as if calling for peace and telling the police officers that the celebration is “almost over.”
One of the policemen on the scene stood by the priest at the altar to tell those gathered that they were breaking the law: “There cannot be so many people gathered. Our job is to stop thieves, not to come bother people. You have to understand us, too.”
However, one of the two policemen at the scene also said that President Alberto Fernandez had banned baptisms, marriages and other sacraments, which the priest contested, and correctly, since no presidential decree has ever banned such events.
The exchange concluded peacefully, since as the priest told the police, the ceremony was almost over: The video that capture the interruption shows the authorities arriving at the end of Communion.
Infobae, an Argentine news outlet, reports that the diocese had informed the priest that he couldn’t celebrate ceremonies with so many people, and quoted a statement signed by Bishop Jorge Lugones that stipulated a 20-person cap, mandatory face masks, and a time limit of 30 minutes.
A section of the video was shared on Twitter by Argentine journalist Gonzalo Azizi, who called the situation “shameful.”
Es una vergüenza esto que padecieron el padre Tito Robles y quienes participaban de una misa AL AIRE LIBRE en Temperley, provincia de Bs As. pic.twitter.com/ftWpwKi3b4
— Gonzalo Aziz (@gonzaloaziz) May 2, 2021
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma