By Inés San MartínMay 11, 2020, ROME BUREAU CHIEF
A Spanish cardinal has gotten into legal trouble for opening a church and bringing an image of the Virgin Mary to the door of the building to bless the city of Valencia. Some accused him of breaking the country’s COVID-19 coronavirus social distancing norms, but the archdiocese said there was no wrongdoing.
The feast of Our Lady of the Forsaken is marked every second Sunday of May in Valencia, and usually involves a procession of the image from the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados to St. Catherine’s Cathedral – a distance of around 200 yards.
However, this year it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
“The Feast of Our Lady of the Forsaken has been celebrated with a single Mass at 10:30 am in the Royal Basilica, behind closed doors without the presence of the faithful,” said a statement released by the Archdiocese of Valencia on Sunday.
The civil authorities are investigating if Cardinal Antonio Cañizares broke the pandemic safety measures by opening the doors of a church in Valencia to let people see the image of the Virgin.
Despite some reports, the archdiocese argues the image never left the church, but was placed facing the Plaza de la Virgen, a public square dedicated to Mary. Videos show several hundred people, wearing face masks and respecting social distance rules, had gathered to venerate the image.
The image was visible only for a few minutes, while the Valencia regional anthem was played.
Also present in the square were three members of the police force and members of the Red Cross, who kept reminding people of the need to keep the proper distance away from each other.
A video available on Twitter confirms that the image never left the church, despite being visible to those outside. Over a megaphone, a member of Valencia’s police force clearly asks those present to keep the proper distance from one another, but at no point a warning is issued regarding the law being broken.
There were also been reports of the basilica being full for the Sunday morning Mass, which was categorically denied by the archdiocese: A video of the event that showed several priests concelebrating with Cañizares, but no faithful.
According to the statement released Sunday by the archdiocese, the archdiocese has “strictly complied” with the measures authorized by health authorities, and has been doing so since the state of emergency was declared on March 14.
In Valencia, there have been no public Masses, but several churches kept the doors open for private prayer. There are strict limitations to the number of people who can be present in each church, and everyone is required to wear a face mask and use a hand sanitizer when they enter.
Aarón Cano, councilor for Citizen Protection of the Valencia City Council, called the opening of the basilica irresponsible and said he considered it an act carried out “with premeditation and treachery,” noting a television station was there at the time. In addition, he has accused the archbishop of “cheating” by giving a public blessing when he had not obtained a permit for the celebration.
The local police have since closed the basilica.
During the homily, Cañizares said that “we are in a very difficult situation of pandemic with dead and sick people; we have a great economic crisis, with companies and jobs being destroyed … we have multiple poverties.”
“Jesus asks us to remain in love, that we do not depart from love, that we love each other with the same love with which he and the Virgin love all the helpless, the multitude who suffer,” he said.
Cañizares also said that in the next few days, the archdiocese will announce special measures to attend to those most affected by the pandemic, for which a Diocesan Board or Commission will be created.
Among the works of mercy that Jesus teaches is “doing for the unemployed as much as we can. Let’s work together. The Valencian people is energized by the Virgin of love, mercy and forgiveness. The faith in her by the Valencian people does not die. Hope is the answer to helplessness, remaining attentive to the pain of the sick, of the elderly, of those who are lonely, of those who are threatened in their lives.”
At the end of the Mass, Cañizares imparted the Pope Francis’s apostolic blessing and suggested that the pilgrim image of Our Lady of the Forsaken be taken to the door of the basilica and bless the city from there.
The allegations against Cañizares for breaking the mandatory health precautions come a week after the prelate warned against “orchestrated campaigns” calling for churches to be re-opened.
“Are we not defending and promoting life? Is not the first commandment to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves? Is it not the commandment of charity, ‘Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another,’ what is above charity?”
In a pastoral letter released April 29, the cardinal says that Catholics are called to help achieve the common good, working alongside the government and praying for civil authorities, while “ignoring orchestrated campaigns on social networks, sending messages that are in some way recriminatory to the hierarchy of the Church.”
“Prudence is very necessary at the moment,” Cañizares wrote.
He also said that he shared the desire of those who want to receive the Eucharist, but that this cannot be done “at all costs.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma