As Bishop Melanio Medina of Misiones, Paraguay delivered the homily at a local parish, the country’s president, Federico Franco, stood up and contested his comments on using genetically altered crops.
The Mass was being celebrated at a church in Villa Florida, some 155 miles southeast of the capital of Asuncion, to mark the 130th anniversary of the founding of the city.
During his homily, Bishop Medina criticized a decision by the government to allow genetically altered corn and cotton seeds to be imported. He called such crops “dangerous to human life and to the environment” and said they “can lead to death.”
President Franco stood up, and to the surprise of those attending, approached the pulpit and said, “Excuse me, your Excellency, let me explain this.”
Taking the microphone from the bishop, he said, “If you can give me documentation from science or from an expert that shows that genetically-altered crops are harmful, I will review my position.”
After a several minute-long speech defending the use of genetically altered seeds in the agricultural industry, President Franco returned the microphone to the bishop who said, “Let’s drop this issue for now, but the use of genetically-altered seeds ought to be reconsidered.”
Speaking to reporters after the Mass, Bishop Medina said he was not upset about the interruption of by President Franco. “Dialogue Masses in which the people participate are normal here in Villa Florida. That is something completely valid and doesn’t bother me. We even invite people to make comments,” he said.
However, the bishop noted that this was the first time a Mass was interrupted by a president.
“I am used to people making comments, but this is the first time a president has done so, since it was the first time he attended a Mass presided by me.”
“A president has never attended a Mass in my diocese, not Lugo or anyone, this was the first time,” he said.
The Church’s liturgical norms state that the homily must be given only by a bishop, priest or deacon. They do not allow for participation by the laity.