MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish Catholic Church said on Tuesday there was "no moral justification" for Catalonia to seek independence from Spain and urged its faithful to pray for unity ahead of a regional election on Sunday.
The church is the latest institution to wade into a stand-off between the government and the wealthy northeastern region, whose leaders have cast the election as a proxy for a vote on secession.
Cardinal Antonio Canizares, the Archbishop of Valencia and one of Spain's most senior clerics, urged Catholics to pray for a united Spain.
"We are not making a political statement, as that is not our place," Canizares said in a letter published on the Archdiocese's website.
"We all need each other: unity is always better than division ... let us pray for Spain, let us pray for Catalonia, let us pray for it to be faithful to its roots, for its progress, for its welfare."
Spanish banks, including some based in the Catalan capital Barcelona, warned last week that a split could unleash financial turmoil, while the Bank of Spain said on Monday that Catalonia would be booted out of the euro zone if it broke away.
The government in Madrid has strongly opposed the independence push, and blocked attempts to hold a referendum on secession.
Pro-independence parties have said they will start a "road map" to an independent state within 18 months if they win control of the regional assembly. However, the movement has been losing steam since a symbolic referendum last year attracted only two-fifths of Catalan voters, albeit with 80 percent in favour of secession.
Artur Mas, the head of Catalonia's regional government, has accused politicians of scaremongering. He told Reuters a unilateral split from Spain was unstoppable unless the government granted the region a binding referendum on the issue.
Opinion polls suggest that pro-independence parties, including the one fronted by Mas, will win a majority of seats in the regional assembly but fall short of a majority of the vote, a result likely to prolong the stalemate between the region and Madrid.
(Reporting by Sarah White; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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