In memory of the first Venezuelan bishop to fall victim of COVID-19
“With great sadness we have received news of the death of Monsignor Cástor Oswaldo Azuaje Pérez, O.C.D., Bishop of Trujillo, Venezuela, on Friday, 8 January 2021”, Regina Lynch, Head of Projects for the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) announced this week. “We have worked together with Bishop Oswaldo ever since he became auxiliary bishop in Maracaibo, and our relations with him became still closer in recent years during his time as Bishop of Trujillo. This is very sad news, especially at the present time when Venezuela has such great need of her shepherds”, Regina Lynch continued.
Bishop Oswaldo Azuaje Pérez is the first senior Venezuelan prelate to have died as a result of the pandemic, although six bishops have had caught the virus, as ACN has ascertained from local sources. In addition to Bishop Oswaldo, these sources confirm, more than eight priests and a number of religious sisters in the country have likewise died of the virus. According to official government statistics, the number of those who have died of coronavirus in Venezuela since the beginning of the pandemic has reached a total of 1061, as of 10 January. These figures have been challenged by the opposition on several occasions, however.
In one of his last addresses, Bishop Oswaldo expressed the pain and suffering he felt, together with all the bishops and priests in Venezuela, at the tragic situation the country is currently going through. In the following words he summarised all the longings and desires he felt for his people: “May no child have to weep for hunger, may no sick person suffer for lack of medicines, no person die for lack of medical attention, no sinner be lost for lack of pardon, no innocent person suffer imprisonment, no family be separated or torn apart; because God was born and continues to be born in order to offer us the opportunity to become better people … May there be peace and justice for Venezuela.”
In this homily, which the 69-year-old Carmelite religious and, for the past eight years, bishop of the diocese of Trujillo gave shortly before falling ill and being hospitalised on 4 January, he spoke of the “closeness between heaven and earth”. After his decease, his words sound like a spiritual legacy: “This year the embrace of God is more powerful than ever for all the children of this land, orphaned of embraces. His weeping was the announcement of peace and the passage from suffering to glory … God with us and us with God.”
In a separate development, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference published a joint pastoral exhortation 11 January, on the occasion of its 115th Ordinary Plenary Assembly, “in light of the extremely grave situation of the country”, in which the bishops also refer to the “moments of turbulence, distress and unease due to the current health emergency” that Venezuela is going through. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we are experiencing the ‘power’ of so many who thought themselves invincible, as their incapacity to act in a coordinated manner becomes evident.”
In the same document the bishops draw attention to “the deterioration in the quality of life, education, health and basic services” and the damage caused by “an unstoppable inflation and devaluation that have impoverished the entire population”.
Faced with the profound social, political and economic crisis that has enveloped the country, and in which the pandemic is only one of the many calamities that have befallen it, the Venezuelan bishops have called for a National Day of Prayer on 2 February this year, that the nation may be able to “resolve our conflicts in a peaceful manner”.
“The foundation ACN unites itself with these prayers for peace and justice in Venezuela”, commented Regina Lynch. “For many years now, we have been closely following the difficult pastoral mission of the Church here. The testimonies we have received from her priests during the COVID-19 pandemic have included expressions of gratitude for the Mass Intentions we have sent them, but at the same time they have been truly impressive”, she continued. “We are quite sure that Bishop Azuaje will be a great intercessor for us in heaven, as both we and the Church in Venezuela strive to continue our mission”, she concluded.