The bishops of the autonomous region of Catalonia, in Spain, have urged calm ahead a disputed referendum on independence, to be held Sunday (1 October). In a joint letter, the bishops were careful not to take a public stance on the issue or the legitimacy of the vote, which was approved by the regional government but declared illegal by the Constitutional Court in Madrid.
Following the court’s decision, police arrested several members of the Catalan regional government under the charge of illegally organising the referendum. Thousands of people took to the streets in protest, in some cases trapping law enforcement officers in the buildings where searches were being conducted.
Tension has gripped the entire region with even football giants Barcelona weighing in publicly in favour of the referendum.
The Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has said that the vote would note take place.
The bishops’ short note asks all to pray for Catalonia “which is going through a delicate period in its history”.
“The Church wants to be a leaven for justice, fraternity and communion and is available to help work towards the good of our people”, write the 12 bishops.
“We encourage everybody, especially the lay Christians, to be responsible and committed to the public life, to walk the path of dialogue and understanding, of respect for rights and institutions and not of confrontation, that our society may be a space of fraternity, freedom and peace.”
Meanwhile a group of 282 priests and 21 deacons has written an open letter in defence of the referendum, which they consider both “legitimate and necessary”, further asking the Catalans to “exercise their fundamental right in conscience”.
The Church in Catalonia has historically been divided on the issue of autonomy and independence. During the Civil War religious practice was practically obliterated in the region by left-wing Republicans, but despite being treated favourably by Franco’s winning nationalists, the hierarchy then proceeded to be an important player in the preservation of the Catalan language and traditions which Madrid tried to suppress.
PICTURE: Catalan Independence supporters wave Esteladas (Catalan pro-independence flag) during a demonstration of Catalan Mayors backing Independence Referendum in Barcelona on 16 September