Ignoring a warning from the government of Catalonia, a Spanish cardinal on Sunday led a funeral Mass for the victims of the COVID-19 coronavirus, hours after threatening to take “legal action” against civil authorities for the “arbitrariness” with which the right of religious freedom and worship is being treated.
Up until Friday, the archdiocese hoped the government of Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region would raise the 10-person cap for religious events that was announced July 17 after a second wave of cases hit the region. This announcement came after the invitations for the funeral Mass had already been sent.
However, Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, the archbishop of Barcelona, argued that the cap was an arbitrary attack against religious freedom, a right protected by Spain’s constitution. He said it was not justifiable to allow up to 1000 tourists at a time in the Basilica of the Holy Family, where the funeral Mass was held, but only 10 people if they are attending a religious service.
Even if all the 500 who’d been invited to the ceremony attended, the basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi would have only been at 23 percent capacity.
“During the next few days, we will initiate the appropriate legal actions,” said a statement released by the archdiocese on Sunday, after it became evident the government wouldn’t relent on the limit for religious celebrations. Omella refused to rescind the invitations, which went to the family members of those who died, and the medical staff who were on the front lines during the crisis.
“It is a provision that seems unfair and discriminatory to us taking into account that we have been very careful and respectful in maintaining the sanitary regulations required for closed spaces, presented at all times to the Administration, with the approval of doctors,” Omella’s statement said.
Due to the lockdown restrictions imposed at the height of the pandemic in Spain, people were unable to attend the funeral services of loved ones. Sunday’s ceremony was meant to allow people to grieve and have a proper goodbye. Spain reported 28,500 deaths due to the virus.
Omella had challenged the decision to not authorize the funeral Mass, which was communicated on Friday. On Sunday, seeing that civil authorities were not budging, he announced he was moving forward with the funeral as arranged, hoping the civil authorities would change their mind. But even the mayor of Barcelona, who had originally said he was going to the funeral, changed her mind two hours before the event and decided not to go.
“All the sanitary measures in place that were considered sufficient by the public administration for the opening yesterday [for Saturday] and today [for Sunday] of the Sagrada Família to tourists will be met,” Omella wrote, noting that it was the Barcelona City Council that had “insistently” called for the opening pf tourist sites in an attempt to reactivate the economy.
Despite the challenging tone in his statement, as he led the funeral Mass the cardinal said that “these are not times for confrontation, it’s time to offer a helping hand, of fighting together for the common good, especially for those who suffer most.”
Acknowledging the challenges posed by the authorities, Omella said at the beginning of his homily that there had been “difficulties” in celebrating the Eucharist.
“We remember everyone, believers or not,” he said. “We feel like brothers to everyone and we share the pain of all their family members and friends.”
Among those attending, there were also people from other faiths who lost loved ones to the virus.
“Why this pain? Could we not have avoided the effects of this pandemic? Where was God at the moment?” Omella asked. “The Church assumes the pain as its own, [and] God never abandons his children.”
“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were people who wondered: Where is the Church?” he said, looking intently at the congregation. “There you were: Doctors, religious, priests, health care workers … Those who in one way or another worked for others.”
Omella highlighted the work carried out by religious, but above all, the laity, saying: “You became a church in these situations. You don’t have to wear a Roman collar, a cassock, or a habit. We all wear the habit of baptism, the children of God who share the faith with others. The Church is all of us.”