Catholic priest resigns after allowing Ganesh Chaturthi celebration in Ceuta church

Ganesh Chathurthi celebrations in the the Church of Our Lady of Africa. Credit: FaroTV Ceuta.

The resignation of a parish priest in the Spanish territory of Ceuta, which rests on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, has shocked the local Hindu community, following an event to celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesh (Ganesh Chaturthi).

For eight years, the procession has passed through the city from its temple to the sea, where the figure is then submerged in water, as with tradition.

Ramesh Chandiramani, president of the local Hindu community, told the Spanish-language newspaper, El Pais, that the procession has always stopped at the Church of Our Lady of Africa, as they also revere the patroness of the city. Estimates put the local Hindu community of Ceuta at 700-800.

In a statement, Bishop Rafael Zorzona Boy described the event as ‘regrettable,’ adding that it should not have occurred. He admonished the parish priest Juan José Mateo, accepting his resignation.

The Diocese statement suggests that the Hindu community had intended to lay a wreath outside of the church in a mark of respect to the Christian community, and the Patron Saint of Ceuta.

Further, the statement praises the ‘cordial’ relationship the church has with other faith groups in the area, calling on others to not condemn their religious beliefs.

The objection from some, according to the Catholic publication Crux, is that the vicar had allowed the procession to walk up to the altar.

A video of the event captures the moment when a Hindu man took a microphone and said: “The only place [Ceuta] in the world where two different cultures, two different religions come together to pray to the god Ganesh and of course to our Patroness.”

The Universal Society of Hinduism is urging Pope Francis to reinstate the parish priest.

Ganesh Chaturthi begins on the fourth day after a new moon per the Hindu Luni-Solar calendar. He is the son of Lord Shiva and the Goddess Parvati. Known as the remover of obstacles, individuals often pray to Lord Ganesh when starting a new venture or enterprise.

Hindu mythology states that Parvati had asked her son to keep watch as she bathed. When Shiva returned, Lord Ganesh did not recognise his father and refused him entry. Enraged after much-heated discussion, Lord Shiva beheaded him.

Upon learning of his error, and the sheer grief of the Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva then sent an attendant (Ganas) or attendants to bring the head of someone sleeping in the north. They returned, however, with the head of an elephant, and with the dirt from her body, restored Lord Ganesh to life.

This ten-day celebration dates back to the dynasties of the Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya, according to some historians.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak turned Ganesh Chaturthi into a national event in opposition to British colonial rule in the late 1890s. This unifying event came at a time when the British had banned social and political gatherings. Tilak wanted to galvanise Indians into supporting the independence movement irrespective of class or caste.

Some have argued that this spirit of independence had become a focal part of the festival until 1947. Post-independence, the focus shifted towards Hindu culture and other global political events.