ROME – In a demonstration of how faith and politics often intersect in combustible environments, a Catalan priest on Sunday decided to open his church for ballot counting in an independence vote deemed illegal by Spanish authorities, and even created the impression of saying Mass in case police barged in.
In reality, the priest was leading a group of independence supporters in singing Marian hymns, but he was vested for the Mass and the clear idea was to make Spanish police believe a genuine Catholic Mass was underway.
The secessionist referendum divided Spanish society as well as the Catholic Church, with many bishops calling for dialogue but some 400 priests openly supporting Catalonian independence.
Among the many clerics who were in favor of the secessionist vote was Father Francesc Manresa, of the Church of Holy Mary of Vila-Rodona in the Catalonia municipality of Alt Camp.
On Sunday, Manresa found a very special way to support the referendum, which saw more than 800 people wounded after the national security forces clashed with voters, following the orders of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to stop the vote.
According to Manresa, on Sunday, his church “welcomed democracy.”
The actual voting station in the small town, which counts some 1,200 people, was just 65 feet from the church. When the polling ended, the ballot boxes were taken to the church, to be counted. As that was going on, the church was packed with people who sang the Virolai, a hymn dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrat, venerated at a nearby monastery under the same name.
The priest led the singing from the lectern, wearing an alb and stole as if celebrating the Mass. A video showing the entire charade went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms, and with the way the footage shows the events, many believed the vote counting took place during the Mass.
Several attempts made by Crux to reach Manresa went unanswered. However, speaking to the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, he defined the event as an “emotional and festive celebration, the church was a place of welcoming.”
The newspaper clarifies that no Mass was celebrated. In fact, there are no Masses in this church on Sunday afternoon. However, the priest acknowledged, he got dressed to play the part to fool police in case officers showed.
Next to the priest, several people counted the votes, either at a wooden table or in the steps leading to the altar.
The ballot boxes with the votes were welcomed into the church with clapping and the song Amistat, ueix-nos, meaning “Friendship, unite us,” which is sung in churches across Catalonia. The priest welcomed and greeted those carrying the votes, as did the mayor of the town, Ramon Bricollé. He then posted on Twitter that the president of the Catalonian government was interested in the counting done in the church.
The priest said that, seeing the violence that had taken place in neighboring towns, he offered the church. “In addition, it’s bigger [than the place where the voting was held] and more people could follow the counting.”
“I’m glad to have welcomed them,” he said.
It was at his suggestion that the people sung the Hymn to Our Lady of Monserrat.
“There was a symbiosis between parish and people, it was like a party, an act of popular celebration,” he said.
Manresa, who’s 78, was ordained over 50 years ago. However, for a period he left the priesthood, got married and had children. In 2000, after the death of his wife, he requested to be re-admitted to the priesthood, and Pope John Paul II accepted. In 2014, the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, he was received by Pope Francis, where he participated in the pontiff’s daily Mass.
According to the Vatican’s website, the stole is an article of enormous importance, which, more than any other garment, indicates the state of ordained office. For this reason, “one cannot but lament the abuse, that is now quite widespread, in which the priest does not wear a stole when he wears a chasuble.”
Although priests usually use a chasuble on top of the alba and stole, he could have said Mass as he was dressed. In fact, he didn’t actually recite any of the elements of the Mass. Had he done so, he could potentially have been charged with a crime under church law for “simulation of the sacrament.”
Many observers have pointed out that the video is another example of the irregularities surrounding Sunday’s election, and that the results announced by the Catalonian government – 90 percent of voters in favor of independence – are virtually impossible to confirm, seeing that there was no official registry for voters and the counting was carried out in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Here’s the video that went viral on Twitter, in this case shared by the Communications director of the Catalonia regional government:
3. La gent canta el Virolai mentre es fa el recompte. Imbatible! pic.twitter.com/AQSCvazYQZ
— Jaume Clotet (@jaumeclotet) October 2, 2017