A group of people appropriated the facilities of a parish in Venezuela's Mérida state on Monday afternoon, saying they were acting on behalf of the local government.
The group seized Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Ejido, fewer than 10 miles southwest of Mérida, May 28.
Bishop Luis Enrique Rojas Ruiz, Auxiliary Bishop of Mérida, said the group stormed in and tore off the padlocks to the doors that give access to the soccer field and parish halls.
The pastor, Fr. José Juan Flores, prevented them from entering the church and asked their identity. They replied that they were from the city council and they came on behalf of the mayor of Ejido, Simón Pablo Figueroa.
The occupiers immediately asked Fr. Flores to remove his belongings and proceeded to weld shut from the outside the metal doors leading to the soccer field.
Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, Bishop Rojas explained that once he learned about the incident he decided to send a Whatsapp message about the “frightening and arbitrary” behavior of the group.
“We call on the authorities in charge of this case to answer for physical integrity and safety of the parish priests as well as that all of the people who are there,” Bishop Rojas' message reads.
Hours later, Bishop Rojas had a phone conversation with the mayor and invited him to a meeting. However, the meeting has not yet materialized, as the mayor is in Caracas.
Fr. Flores said that an incident of this kind was imminent since the church had been threatened with the seizure of its parish buildings and the priests and faithful had also been threatened.
“They have insulted the faith on many occasions, scratching highly offensive graffiti on the parish buildings. They want to damage the image of the priests and the diocese and so they damage beautiful works of art with expletives and major insults,” Bishop Rojas said.
Lawyers from the archdiocese and the town were to meet May 29 to agree on solutions to end the seizure.
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA .