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Friday, September 18, 2020

Empty churches in Spain, only due to the coronavirus?

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Today is Good Friday and I guess that for most Christians around the world, it´s their religion’s most important holiday, although some might think it’s actually Christmas. That one is nowadays often called X-Mas, an aberration that denies the celebration’s origin. The fact that during those days in pagan times there were already other events going on is a completely different story and doesn’t diminish the importance it has had for the last 2,000 years.

This year at this rather special time, due to government restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, the churches in Spain will be completely empty. The lockdown has just been extended until at least April 26th. But it’s not that usually they are still full. Not at all, as I noticed since I returned to Spain provisionally at the beginning of 2018. When for a while I attended mess regularly again after 35 years, I often got the sad impression that, being almost 53 years old, I was the youngest visitor. I hardly ever saw a full house.

The only exception that confirmed the rule to me occurred in the chapel belonging to the Valley of the Fallen, a monument built from 1940 to 1958 as a symbol of reconciliation between the two sides in the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. Erected about 60 kilometers away from Madrid during the rule of General Francisco Franco, winner of the conflict and head of State from 1939 to 1975, it offers a unique experience. I attended mass there with a Mexican and a Spaniard, both rather sympathetic to Buddhism and not devout at all. The three of us were impressed by the solemn atmosphere, enhanced by the decoration, the lighting, the boys’ choir (I forgot, but probably singing in Latin) and the very traditional procedure, absent from most comparable celebrations today. My guess is that many Catholics are longing for just this and not what I had to endure in my parish in the neighborhood, where you are supposed to halt hands during songs of dubious quality that remind you that not everybody who can sing and play should be considered a gifted composer. A rather modern (Holy) spirit is always in the air!

Nowadays, only about 20% of Spaniards consider themselves practicing Catholics. In the age group 15 to 30, there are only 10% left. Almost 45 years after Franco’s death, who basically preserved Catholic faith from extinction, it’s indeed a remarkable “progressive achievement”.

Leftists might cheer on that, especially as the Spanish left harbors a pathological hatred for the Catholic Church that can’t be found in Portugal or Italy. It broke out violently before and during the fratricidal war in the 1930s, causing the destruction of invaluable cultural artifacts, documents and structures. That extreme animosity went underground and into exile, erupting again in the late 1970s. They miss the point that the values they allegedly defend have been profoundly shaped by Christianity over the centuries in hard-fought battles: religious freedom (particularly the one to renounce your beliefs, first and foremost publicly), personal happiness, equal rights for men and women, etc. These fervent fighters for a supposedly secular society ignore the close relationship between a nation’s religious and cultural background as well as the fact that humans need something to believe in and always will.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Spain is now in the firm grip of radical feminists, who categorically deny the achievements reached by women during the last decades, and regionalists in Catalonia, the Basque County, Galicia and nowadays even in Asturias, Andalusia and the Valencian Community, who won’t acknowledge the historical common roots of all Spaniards. Since Socialists and Communists finally were able to form a central government at the end of last year, there is an Orwellian “Ministry of Equality”, ironically reserved for women! The firm belief in the lasting discrimination of females in all aspects of life is a dogma comparable to some from the Middle Ages, often portrayed as a very dark period of time by the same people. Similar to religious fanatics, many of the separatist hardliners harbor extreme ideas which can’t be questioned.

The vanishing influence of deeply-rooted religion beliefs might precede the cultural downfall of Europe, under the threat of ever increasing mass immigration and the Islamization that comes with it. Still, some of my classmates are more worried about a hypothetical return to power of a few Opus Dei members, a conservative Catholic group quite influential in Franco’s Spain. Considering the sad state of the Spanish economy even before the pandemic, a conservative technocrat’s expertise is probably the best thing that could nowadays happen to the country where I grew up.

I just realized that the state-owned tobacco shop (“estanco”) next to my place, which usually is open even on Sundays, is closed today. Maybe out of respect for a traditional Christian holiday in a country that hardly can be called Catholic anymore? Or just by law? Or both? Anyway, Happy Easter and for some, an enjoyable egg hunt!

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  1. Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI said that the Church would become smaller – that’s OK, quality is always better than quantity. Conservative parishes are doing very well, while liberal are not faring as well. This is worldwide, from what I can tell. We should not be afraid. If you read the Apocalypse to the end you know who wins at the end.


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