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Priest performs fake mass to provide cover for Catalonia's independence vote

(Reuters/Juan Medina)Students attend a demonstration in favor of the banned October 1 independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain September 28, 2017.

A Catholic priest in Catalonia celebrated a fake mass on Sunday in order to provide cover for the ballot counting in the independence vote that has been deemed illegal by Spanish authorities.

Fr. Francesc Manresa, of the Church of Holy Mary of Vila-Rodona in the Catalonia municipality of Alt Camp, led a group of independence supporters in singing Marian hymns in an attempt to make Spanish police believe that a genuine Catholic Mass will be conducted.

A video posted on Sunday by Jaume Clotet, the Catalonian government's director of communications, showed the congregation offering a loud applause when the ballot boxes arrive in the church.

The referendum had caused divisions within Spanish society as well as the Catholic church, with many bishops calling for dialogue, but some 400 priests openly expressing support for independence from Spain.

At least 800 people were wounded after national security forces clashed with voters, following the orders of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to stop the vote.

In another video clip, the organizers paid tribute to the people who were injured in violent clashes with the police at polling stations across Catalonia.

A third video features the crowd singing "Virolai," a hymn to Our Lady of Montserrat, the patron saint of Catalonia, while the ballot boxes are being emptied and counted.

Manresa told Spanish news website La Vanguardia that the "ploy" was an attempt to avoid the violence that occurred at polling places in other towns across Catalonia.

"I have a very good relationship with the neighbors and before the violence in other towns, I offered the temple to them," he said, according to Russia Today.

"It was also bigger and so more people could follow the scrutiny. I'm happy to have welcomed them," he added.

According to Crux, the actual polling station in the small town, which counts some 1,200 people, is only 65 feet away from Manresa's church.

No masses were celebrated at the church on Sunday, but Manresa said that he got dressed to play the part to fool the police in case they showed up.

Crux noted that it was the 78-year-old priest's suggestion that the people sung the Hymn to Our Lady of Monserrat. "There was a symbiosis between parish and people, it was like a party, an act of popular celebration," he said.

The results announced by the Catalonian government indicated that 90 percent of voters were in favor of independence, but some have noted that this was virtually impossible to confirm as there was no official registry for voters and the counting was carried out in less-than-ideal circumstances.

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