BARCELONA, Spain (CNS) — Church leaders appealed for calm in Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region after hundreds of people were detained by authorities and more than 800 others were injured during a disputed independence referendum.
Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, urged all parties to engage in “prayers and calm” following the Oct. 1 vote, which was marred by violence throughout the region.
“The violence experienced in Catalonia is deplorable,” he said. “We have to find a peaceful and democratic way out of this situation.”
The cardinal’s appeal came as Catalonia regional President Carles Puigdemont said in a televised address after polls closed that Catalans had “won the right to statehood.”
The vote went forward despite Spain’s Constitutional Court suspension of a law passed by the Catalonian parliament that said if more than 50 percent of voters in the referendum supported independence, the state would secede. The paramilitary Civil Guard used batons and rubber bullets in a bid to close polling stations and seize ballot boxes, triggering violence with protesters.
The president of the Tarraconense Episcopal Conference, which includes prelates from the Barcelona and Tarragona archdioceses, urged Catholics to “trust the God of peace.”
“The violent scenes being lived out here are deplorable. We must stop the confrontations and find a peaceful, democratic exit,” Tarragona Archbishop Jaume Pujol Balcells said Oct. 1 in a Twitter message.
Catalonia, the wealthiest of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, is home to 7.5 million people with its own language and culture, and separatist politicians promised the referendum after forming a coalition government in 2015.
The vote was backed as conforming to “Gospel and humanistic values” by more than 400 Catholic clergy and religious order members, about 20 percent of Catalonia’s total, in a late September declaration. The message was sent to Pope Francis, leading to a formal protest by Spain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Gerardo Bugallo.
Preaching Oct. 1, Cardinal Omella urged citizens to “abandon their egoisms and think more about others.”
Meanwhile, a group of Catholic public figures appealed for “the building of bridges not walls,” and said Catalonia should reject a cultural identity “defined in opposition to others,” recalling “disastrous periods of the past” when disputes were “resolved with violent force in civil wars.”
“We consider it aberrant that an aversion to everything Spanish has been forming in Catalonia over successive generations,” said the Oct. 2 declaration, signed by Eudald Vendrell, president of Barcelona Archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, and Teresa Compte of the Pontifical University of Salamanca.
“Hispanophobia stands in the same mire as anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia and class intolerance,” they said.
Addressing the regional parliament Oct. 2, Puigdemont said Catalans had “won the right to an independent state,” after officials said 90 percent of voters had backed secession. About 42.3 percent of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters went to the polls, officials said.
However, Spain Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalans had been fooled into taking part in an illegal vote, and warned his government could use constitutional powers to suspend the region’s autonomy.
Medical officials said 844 people, including 33 police officers, were injured in clashes during voting.