A Spanish archbishop has backed workers protesting in churches over the lack of government help to overcome the COVID-19 economic crisis.

– “The Church’s doors are never closed to those who suffer”

“The Church’s doors are never closed to those who suffer for whatever reason, and we do not want to close them precisely now, when the help of faith, the commitment of charity and the strength of hope are most needed”, Archbishop of Oviedo Jesús Sanz Montes laid out November 16 in a note of support for hospitality workers who have locked themselves up in protest in two churches in the diocese.

“There are many who are coming to our churches to find what they need in these hard times that test us”, Sanz underlined.

– “I as archbishop will not call for police action to proceed with evictions”

Since Saturday November 14 a handful of workers in local hotels have been locked up in the churches of San Pedro and San Antonio de Padua in the towns of La Felguera and Avilés respectively.

In the name of more than 160 workers and entrepreneurs in the local hospitality industry, they are protesting against the refusal of local government to cancel municipal taxes on their establishments for the duration of COVID restrictions on social gatherings. They are also demonstrating against the failure of local, regional and national governments to extend to them further economic assistance to deal with the fallout from the COVID economic crisis.

In his note of support Monday, Archbishop Sanz said that Church workers in the diocese have been “surprised” by the number of those who have been asking for help to denounce and deal with the “desperate” work situation that they are suffering due to COVID.

“We understand their pain and we try to make it our own”, Sanz underlined.

“As they enter into parish churches to make their suffering visible and to express their just demands, it will not be me as archbishop who calls for police action to proceed with an eviction. I will not do it, as we have never done in our diocesan Church on other occasions”, the Franciscan declared.

– Outbreaks not the fault of workers fighting for their livelihoods

“We stand in solidarity with the just demands of these workers who suffer in the flesh of their families, their jobs and small businesses the results of policies that are sometimes improvised in their measures, badly oriented in their solutions and of unforeseeable consequences for so many people”, Sanz added.

The archbishop acknowledged that the workers demonstrating in churches have come in for criticism over the fact that their protests are exposing themselves and others to the risk of contagion.

But he underlined that their protest must not become a question of public health vs. labour rights, and insisted that “it would not be fair” to blame the workers for outbreaks, which Sanz attributed instead to “the most unsupportive irresponsibility of those who, due to their frivolity, are causing the disaster that we all regret”.

Having said all that, the archbishop did call on the demonstrators to observe best practice with regard to reducing the risk of infections for the duration of their protests.

He closed his note with an appeal to political and health authorities to take measures “for the good of the whole of society” in this “moment of extreme difficulty” for all.

– Parish priest: “The Church must reach out to the hospitality workers and open its doors to them”

For their part, the protesters in the church in Avilés have expressed their gratitude to local parishioners, whom they said “have brought us food, drink and clothes – they have even offered us money that we have refused”.

The demonstrators also expressed their thanks to parish priest Ángel Fernández Llana, who declared:

“We are all aware that they are having a really bad time of it and that many families who depend on these businesses now have no income. The Church must reach out to the hospitality workers and open its doors to them”.

Novena’s full coverage of the COVID-19 crisis

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.