Policemen in balaclavas broke into a church in an Italian mountain village to let a new priest take up his job last Monday. The early morning operation, in the village of Trasacco, near L'Aquila in the Abruzzi mountains, ended a six-month stand-off during which villagers protested about losing their favourite parish priest. Last August, when the diocese tried to send a new priest to the village, locals bricked up the door, keeping Fr Emilio Succhiella, a 67 year-old white-bearded Capuchin friar a "prisoner of love" for ten days. They then began a sit-in to prevent the new priest taking over, which lasted until the police intervened. One of the protestors in the church rang the bell summoning hundreds of local people, including pensioners in their night-clothes under coats, who came out on the streets singing hymns. The villagers are devoted to the Capuchins, who have served them for the last 430 years. Deputy mayor, Vincenzo Retico, told reporters the new priest would struggle to be accepted by the community. "How can the people welcome him now, when he arrives with a police escort?" he said. "Everything that there is in this town today was built with the toil and sweat of the monks. They were part of our being."
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