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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
Priest goes on strike over absent flock
Tamsin Smith
By Tamsin Smith
BBC correspondent in Italy

Sunday Mass in the tiny village church of Carchitti near Rome is an unremarkable affair.

There is a pianist, a guitarist and a couple of fidgeting choir boys.

Father Remo Ronci
Father Ronci has lost patience
The congregation, mostly women and restless toddlers, gather to listen to Father Remo Ronci, a sprightly 75-year-old.

His performance at the altar is energetic, if a little lengthy, but he is increasingly frustrated that more of his parishioners don't come to hear it.

Many who do shuffle off early.

To make his point, Father Ronci took the unconventional step of going on strike in April.

"I suspended Mass in our church just before Easter to make people understand.

"It's logical to intervene when there's a bad situation."

People will happily take a week off to go to the beach, but a little time for God would be better than making excuses
Father Remo Ronci

Villagers found a notice pinned to the church door berating their "lack of commitment to religious life."

"Let's face it, people take free time whenever they want to," the priest explains.

"They go and play sport and then go out on Saturday nights. But when it comes to Sunday morning, they'd all rather sleep.

"I think it's strange people complain Mass is too long.

"People will happily take a week off to go to the beach, but a little time for God would be better than making excuses."

Shake up

There is support for his stance among the congregation.

"I think he did the right thing," says one of them, Maria, who is tucking a squirming child into a pushchair.

"People round here need shaking up a bit."

There may be pews to spare in the church, but up the road in Carchitti's local bar, you would be lucky to get a seat, even at 11 in the morning.

"No-one here goes to Mass any more because this is an agricultural village," says Gino, a local farmer.

"We produce strawberries and nuts so people need to work in the fields.

"Our priest is complaining because he wants us all in church every week.

"Well it's not possible and he's the only priest to say this.

"He talks a lot - in fact he talks too much and this is the main problem."


A murmur of approval and vigorous nodding ripple around the tables.

Agata the bartender thinks that even if sermons are boring, the priest should not take matters into his own hands.

Agata the bartender
Agata the bartender thinks Father Ronci has got it wrong

"I think it's strange that he cancelled Mass," she says.

"It's the first time I have ever heard of a priest going on strike.

"Everyone has their own problems, their own work.

"When there's time free we don't want to spend it in church - unless of course there are important festivals."

Father Ronci, though, is keen to point out that the church youth scene is still thriving.

And with one bout of industrial action under his belt, along with plenty of media attention, he is not ruling out further strikes to get the rest of his flock back in line.

"I would do it again, because I've seen that already I've stirred things up and there's a bit of a debate.

"If I stay quiet, what good would that do, and what kind of father is one who doesn't tell his son how to behave?

"The son won't thank him in the long run."

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