ANIMAL WATCH JONATHAN OWEN THE ISSUE OF using animals at fiestas to celebrate Saints' Days was recently highlighted in the reports of a goat being thrown from a church tower. This event took place in a town in the region of Manganeses de la Polvorosa, in northern Spain. Far from being an unusual occurrence, this is just one example of many Catholic saints' celebrations involving animal cruelty that take place in towns and villages in Spain and Latin America every year.
All types of animals are victims of cruelty at fiestas in Spain. Goats are thrown from church towers, chickens beheaded by blindfolded children, rabbits stoned to death, but it is the bull that bears the brunt of the cruelty. They are often beaten and stabbed to death, but the most commonly held event is the toro embolado (fire bull) in which the horns of a bull are set on fire and the animal chased through the village.
One such place where this takes place is the village of Albocacer, in Spain's Castellon region. Every August this village hosts a week-long fiesta to celebrate its patron saint, the Virgin of the Ascension. During the celebrations the bull's horns are set alight and explode with fireworks. Incredibly, there is a children's version of this event, with World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) investigators having witnessed a young calf set on fire for children at a nearby village. Similarly, as many as 12 separate "fire bull" events are held to celebrate the patron saint, Our Lady of Hope, in the town of Segorbe each year.
In Latin America the same pattern of animal abuse at religious festivals has also been observed. In one notorious event in the Nicaraguan village of Massaya, horse riders rip the heads off chickens strung on wires across the street. Ironically, this spectacle is held to celebrate Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals.
Long term investigations by the WSPA have shown the active role of the Catholic Church in these fiestas. Animal welfarists from around the world, continue to lobby the Pope to speak out against the atrocities that are committed in the name of the Catholic Church year after year. As long as such events are allowed to take place, Saints' celebrations will remain hijacked by those who abuse animals.
However, the Vatican has yet to make any statement regarding this issue and maintains a "no comment" stance. This official silence is ironic since the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "Animals are God's creatures... It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly" [2416 2417], and as far back as 1567, Pope Pius V passed a decree to "forbid the baiting of bulls and other beasts".
T PRESENT, there is no national animal protection law in Spain. Instead, animal welfare falls under the Jurisdiction of the 17 regional governments. Despite the animal protection laws adopted in the Catalonia and Madrid regions in the last few years, the majority of regions still have no legal provisions for animal welfare. Moreover, the legislation that has been adopted specifically excludes bullfighting (as does EU legislation on cultural grounds) and traditional fiestas involving bulls.
However, Spain does have national laws regarding public spectacles. The fact that these laws are not enforced is a major factor in fiestas being able to thrive unhindered by any sort of legislation. It is estimated that fiestas currently take place in at least a third of Spain's 8,000 municipalities.
Encouragingly, opposition to these cruel events is increasing, particularly among younger generations of Spaniards who realise that the continuance of these inhumane practices does little to help Spain's efforts to seek greater recognition and respect within the European Union.
As the Easter fiesta season approaches, the Catholic Church has a moral responsibility to denounce the abuse of animals of religious festivals, and WSPA has sent a report to His Holiness Pope John Paul II that documents the religious foundation of many of Spain's cruel fiestas.
Among other ways of raising awareness of animal abuse, animal welfare organisations would like to see compassion for animals at fiestas as one of the monthly announcements from the Pope which are published throughout the world.
If this was done, then villagers in Spain and Nicaragua, and other countries where such events are held, might think twice before persecuting animals in the name of Catholic saints.