A Catholic priest in Italy apologized following a wave of criticism after offering to bless rifles before the hunting season.
The controversy started when the Parish of St. Michael Archangel in Avaglio, located outside of Florence, posted the church’s schedule on Facebook on Aug. 28.
On the schedule, sandwiched between mass and confessions, was a blessing for the opening day of the hunting season planned for Sept. 3.
The post touched a nerve, garnering over 160 comments, many of which scoffed at the idea of consecrating weapons.
It would be a shame to bless instruments of death, one commenter said.
The Catholic church should be ashamed of such behavior, another wrote, adding the clergy should instead teach people to respect all creation.
Several commenters also expressed frustration that weapons could receive blessings, but animals could not, referencing a recent episode in which Pope Francis refused to bless a dog.
Two days later, in response to the flurry of comments, the parish posted a lengthy statement on Facebook addressing the scheduled blessing for hunters.
Alessio Biagioni, a priest at the parish, wrote that he was amazed and disheartened by the responses, some of which were violent.
He apologized if the expression of blessing guns might have been mistaken as some “sanctification of an instrument of death” by the church.
Biagioni’s intention, he said, was to have a moment of prayer before commencing a sporting activity that many parishioners in the region take part in.
At the time, it seemed obvious to bless the guns and to ask for god’s protection for hunters, Biagioni wrote.
When offering blessings, also known as sacramentals, priests typically pray or read scripture, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Google Translate was used to translate Facebook posts from the Parish of St. Michael Archangel as well as comments on them.