BACOLOD CITY: The president of the St. John Institute (Huaming) Board of Trustees (SJI-BOT) has denied that they closed the Queen of Peace Church to its parishioners on Saturday.
Cesar Villanueva, SJI- BOT president, told a news conference on Sunday said that what they closed was the main gate of the school compound.
“We had to close the gate after an unfortunate incident took place involving our administrative and security staff and those who are running the church” the SJI-BOT said in statement posted at the school gate.
Villanueva was referring to spat between him and the Queen of Peace Parish Rector, Fr. Ernie Larida, whom Villanueva said was supposed to be on leave.
The incident was reportedly triggered by the hanging of a tarp for the schedule of Lenten Masses at the church on Saturday morning.
Villanueva said that school administrative personnel had requested Larida to wait until they can confirm the matter with Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon which request Larida reportedly resented.
He added that he went to the school to personally talk to Larida but the latter raised his voice.
Villanueva said he was just trying to clarify if Larida has the authority to hang the tarp in the school premises because he (Larida) is on leave and the acting parish priest is Buzon.
Villanueva alleged that Larida hit him in the stomach while saying “Let’s end this now,” referring to the long-standing feud between the school and the church.
“ In order to avoid more violence perpetuated by no less than a priest and a leader of their church organization, we deemed it best to close the main gate,” the statement said.
Villanueva said the pedestrian gate remains open for parishioners.
It is not the first time that Larida quarrelled with school officials, he noted.
In their statement, they said, “We have informed the bishop about this decision that while the front gates are closed, churchgoers can still enter the premises via the small gate. We reiterate that the Church will remain open to the faithful but we are also mindful about the security of our staff and the students who continue to use the facilities.”
Villanueva said Buzon has called up and apologized for the “unfortunate” incident.
According to him, while Buzon stated that the church will be reverted back to the chapel, it is not clear yet how this will be done
When sought for comment, Larida said he had no intention of harming Villanueva.
He claimed that while he and Villanueva were arguing loudly, he extended his hands as an act of self-defense when Villanueva made a move toward him.
EUGENE Y. ADIONG