ROME—A bishop in Spain has issued a public apology after one of his priests allowed the local Hindu community to parade inside his church with an image of Ganesh, a Hindu deity easy to identify because of his elephant head.
The priest who allowed the event to happen subsequently offered his resignation as the Vicar General of the diocese, which was accepted.
On Sunday, the Hindu community of Ceuta and Melilla, two autonomous Spanish communities located on the coast of North Africa, was finishing celebrations for Ganesh, a deity with the body of a child and an elephant head that’s worshiped as the god of protection and good luck.
As part of their route, they entered the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Africa, where they were received by the diocese’s Vicar General Father Juan José Mateos Castro. Here, they sang chants known in Spain’s Andalusian region as “salve rociera.”
On Monday, Bishop Rafael Zorzona Boy labeled the event as a “regrettable one” that shouldn’t have been allowed, and that might have caused “pain, confusion or scandal in the Christian community.”
The bishop also asked for forgiveness to all those who might have been scandalized by it.
In the statement, the diocese says that in no case is the “love of the members of the Hindu community or their beliefs [to be] rebuked,” and they thank the Hindus for their respect.
However, the note says, the cordial relationship Catholics enjoy with Hindus and other religions present in Ceuta, “forces us to be increasingly more faithful to our Christian tradition.”
“We thank them for their respect, and reiterate our satisfaction with the cordial relationship with them and the other religious confessions in Ceuta, which forces us to be increasingly more faithful to our Christian tradition,” the statement said.
The statement also said that the vicar had been “admonished” for allowing these actions and that he’s presented his resignation, which was accepted.
Mateos, the statement said, “acknowledges that it was a mistake to allow the entrance of these images and that he didn’t intend, at any moment, to venerate anything outside of our only and true God, for his intention was only to welcome the sign of respect that the Hindu community wanted to offer towards the Christian community and the Patroness of Ceuta.”
According to the note issued by the diocese, the Hindu community only intended to leave a floral offering outside the Catholic Church, and that they had no plans of doing a joint interreligious event.
A video available on YouTube of the events, shows how the image of the Hindu deity is first venerated at the door of the church, with the community that paraded it around the city’s center singing a salve intended for the Virgin Mary.
The objection, some observed in Spain, wasn’t that the group wanted to stop at the church and pay its respects to Mary, but that the vicar opened the doors for the deity to be carried in a procession towards the altar, where they were openly welcomed by Mateos.
Once there, a group of Catholics sang a Marian hymn dedicated to Our Lady of Africa looking at Ganesh.
One of the members of the Hindu community then grabbed the microphone and said Ceuta is “the only place in the world where two different cultures, two different religions come together to pray to the god Ganesh and of course to our Patroness.”
Afterwards, what looks to be a family went up to the image of the Virgin Mary, and prayed a Hail Mary looking at the Hindu deity.
The entrance of the Hindu deity into the Church of Our Lady of Africa begins around minute 20.