The social, political and economic situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate gravely, with shortages of food, medicines and the basic necessities of daily life. The Church is suffering the consequences of this crisis along with the people, and in many of the dioceses of the country the clergy and other pastoral workers, who are involved in the indispensable work of addressing the material and spiritual needs of the people, are themselves in need of aid in order to survive.

Cardinal Baltasar Porras, who is apostolic administrator of Caracas and at the same time Archbishop of Mérida, spoke recently with a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) who were visiting the country to see the situation for themselves and observe how the aid projects of the charity are helping the Church in Venezuela in its pastoral and social outreach.

Venezuela is not actually at war, yet in reality it is living as though it were in a state of war. What would you say of this assessment?

We are living in an exceptional and unheard-of situation, which is not the result of war, nor of any armed conflict, or any natural catastrophe, and yet which is having similar consequences. The political regime that is running Venezuela has broken the country and has generated an atmosphere of social conflict that is steadily growing worse. On top of this there is the reality of so many Venezuelans living in exile – something that was unheard of before. People are leaving on account of their economic situation and because of their political ideas, while others are doing so on account of the harassment and repression in the country, whose economic system is now practically ruined. There is absolutely no security under the law. At the same time there is no work and no proper healthcare, there is no possibility for people of bringing home even the minimum to support their family. The experts describe this whole situation as a wartime economy.

Cardinal Baltasar Porras,apostolic administrator of Caracas and Archbishop of Mérida (Venezuela).

Cardinal Baltasar Porras,apostolic administrator of Caracas and Archbishop of Mérida (Venezuela).

We have heard about the negotiations in Oslo between the government and the opposition, but there is a great deal of scepticism in regard to them. Do you think that this could really be a way forward to improve the situation in the country?

We have to understand that over the past 20 years, when the government found itself in difficulties, it frequently called for dialogue. But these appeals were only made in order to “paper over the cracks”, because the government had no real desire to negotiate sincerely, or to concede anything at all. Given this situation, a large proportion of the population have lost all trust and belief in the idea of dialogue. But despite this, it is an opportunity to discover if there is any will to restore democracy, which has for now been totally sidelined in this country. We are deeply concerned at the fact that in the last year the number of people who have been arrested, tortured, murdered or “disappeared” has been growing and that those involved in these actions include not only high-ranking members of the military, but also some members of the pro-government popular classes. Some of the state organisations are looked on by people as “Nazi” police, and generate fear among the people. The government has lost the streets, and now the only way it can control the people is through fear, and by deliberately provoking fuel, food and energy shortages.

During our visit we were able to see how, wherever there is a parish or another Church institution, people flock to it and find help and leave somewhat comforted. Could one say that the Church in Venezuela is a Church of Hope?

The public and private institutions have been destroyed, and the only institution remaining is the Church. This is thanks to our closeness to the people and to our presence at every level of society. Besides, the Church has had the courage to point out the defects of this regime. Other social agencies have not spoken out about this crisis, for fear of the government, which has threatened and closed down the communications media and attacked private enterprises.

As a result of its clear and firm stance the Church too is suffering from threats and pressure. Can it be said that the Church in Venezuela is being persecuted?

I would say, we cannot say that it is not persecuted. For example, in the field of education there are restrictions on the Catholic centres; it seems as though they are looking to place obstacles, so that it is the Church itself who has to close her own schools. For years we have been suffering subtle forms of pressure, including verbal threats and harassment against our social institutions such as Caritas, for example. The parishes are attacked by the government, by the communal councils and the so-called “colectivos”, pro-government popular groups. For example, in Caracas, the members of these groups stand at the church doors and listen to what the priest says in his homilies, and if they don’t like it, then the threats begin.

There are already 4 million Venezuelans outside the country – 1.5 million in Colombia, 700,000 in Peru, 400,000 in Chile, 500,000 in Florida.

There are already 4 million Venezuelans outside the country – 1.5 million in Colombia, 700,000 in Peru, 400,000 in Chile, 500,000 in Florida.

What would happen in Venezuela if it weren’t for the presence of the Catholic Church?

The situation would be worse, and worsening for many people. It hurts us to see our people like this. Given the phenomenon of emigration, those of us who have been left behind are “orphans of affection”, because the family and the whole environment in which we used to live have disappeared. We feel the lack of companionship and we also suffer because many of those who have emigrated are not doing well either. Venezuela is turning into a geopolitical problem that affects other countries also. There are already 4 million Venezuelans outside the country – 1.5 million in Colombia, 700,000 in Peru, 400,000 in Chile, 500,000 in Florida – half of them without papers, we are told. And there are many more in other countries of the Americas and in Europe. It is terribly sad.

What has Pope Francis said to you in the meetings you have had with him?

The Pope knows the situation in Venezuela very well, since long before he was appointed Pope. And in addition, his closest collaborators, such as the Vatican Secretary of State, have had direct connections with Venezuela and are very much involved. The Pope is trusting in the local bodies. In the last meeting that we had between the entire Venezuelan episcopate and the Holy Father he said to us “I endorse everything you are doing”. Some people wonder why he doesn’t say more about Venezuela. Things are being done, but discreetly, partly so as not to endanger the organisations which are helping the Church in Venezuela.

Have you a final message for those in ACN who are working together with the Church in Venezuela?

The support of many institutions, and not only Catholic ones, is a great source of consolation for us. In particular we are profoundly grateful to ACN, not only for your material support, but for the spiritual closeness expressed by you, above all through prayer. And there is one thing in particular we must acknowledge, namely that thanks to the support we receive from ACN in the form of Mass intentions, you are helping enormously to alleviate the needs in the parishes, and in this way we can devote other resources to support our social outreach. You are helping us to continue to be present and support the people who need us most.

Following initial talks in Oslo (Norway), Venezuela seems to be moving towards change. These meetings represent an attempt to solve the crisis in Venezuela together with the government of a neutral European country. According to José Virtuoso, rector of Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas (Venezuela), these are “exploratory talks” between the representatives of the government of Nicolás Maduro on the one hand and the opposition on the other. As the Jesuit priest explained in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they are a “small ray of hope”.

  1. How confident are you about the talks being held in Oslo?
  2. We know that informal meetings between the opposition and Maduro’s government have already taken place. If anything, these were exploratory talks – no commitments were made. However, the talks in Oslo imply the “official” commitment of a government, specifically, that of the government of Norway. This can be considered positive.

Secondly, it also shows that both President Maduro’s government and President Guaidó are open to exploring possibilities for reaching an understanding. Anything that has even the slightest chance of resolving the Venezuelan crisis needs to be considered.

Crisis in Venezuela: “A small ray of hope”.

Crisis in Venezuela: “A small ray of hope”.

  1. However, these talks are currently at a very early stage. Have any concrete measures been proposed?

Nothing definite has been suggested. A decision has not even been made on how to proceed. Steps have only been taken towards holding exploratory talks. All involved – both the Norwegian government as well as Maduro’s government and President Guaidó – have talked about an exploratory process. We are still far away from a process of dialogue or negotiation.

  1. Does the progress that has been made towards rapprochement have anything to do with the step taken by Juan Guaidó on 30 April, when he called on the army to support him?
  2. In my opinion, what has become clear since 30 April is that we are at an impasse: neither Maduro’s government nor Interim President Guaidó have made any progress. We now have to look for other ways out of this deadlock, we have to find other possibilities.
  3. What is the standpoint of the Church? Almost two years ago, the Church was involved in the attempts to start a dialogue. However, the Church later withdrew because it felt that it was being exploited…
  4. Past attempts – the talks in which the Vatican initially took part and later the talks between the government and the opposition in Santo Domingo – all failed. I don’t believe that these meetings were properly prepared for and developed.

For example, if we take a look at Columbia: there, the talks and agreements between the Columbian government and the FARC were the culmination of a very long and meticulously prepared process. These talks only took place when all parties were genuinely interested in negotiating. The same cannot be said about Venezuela at the moment. This willingness first has to be developed and strengthened.

The process should not be pushed forward too quickly, because that makes it too easy to abandon. We have to try to build a solid foundation to enable an agreement. That is why I say that it will be a slow, a difficult process. But I believe that the Venezuelans finally want it to happen.

  1. Based on past experiences, do you believe that things will be different this time because Nicolás Maduro has realised that things cannot continue as they are at the moment?
  2. I believe that not only the opposition, but the Venezuelans as a whole are watching the progress of these processes very closely and with a great deal of scepticism. The government is still adamantly refusing to recognise both the opposition and the possibility of a deal. This is why we continue to view the situation with scepticism. However, this is the route we seem to be taking. As a small ray of hope has appeared, I believe that we now have to keep it from being extinguished and instead keep it shining brightly.
  3. "Following initial talks in Oslo (Norway), Venezuela seems to be moving towards change".

    “Following initial talks in Oslo (Norway), Venezuela seems to be moving towards change”.

I believe that the international community and also the United States, which have taken a tougher stance, agree that a peaceful solution is much better than a violent one. That is also the standpoint of the Church: relief, assistance and the establishment of the conditions necessary to resolve the Venezuelan conflict peacefully.

  1. Let’s talk about the situation of the general population. The international press reported on the nationwide blackouts that persisted for days. What is the current situation in the country in terms of energy and food?
  2. In the large cities, in particular those located in the centre of the country such as Caracas and other important cities, the power supply is back to normal. However, the situation is more dramatic in the border regions. At the border with Columbia, in Zulia state, the power supply is deplorable. Although it is the country’s most densely populated state with the second most important city, the power supply remains erratic. A similar situation can be found in the two western states Táchira and Mérida, where a large part of the population lives.
  3. Maduro has now given the Red Cross permission to enter the country to provide humanitarian aid. Is this a solution?
  4. In practice, the humanitarian aid is greatly curtailed; that is, a number of medical goods and generators were brought into the country for hospitals, which is good. However, I have the feeling that many countries would like to get a lot more involved by sending medical supplies, medicines and food to the people, but they do not have the possibility to do so.
  5. As rector of the university you are very concerned about education: what is happening in this area?

I am very concerned about the deteriorating educational system in Venezuela. Children and adolescents cannot attend classes regularly, either because of problems with transportation or food. Our schools, secondary schools and universities are suffering terrible consequences from the emigration of teachers and professors. Getting a degree in Venezuela is practically a heroic feat.

  1. We have been talking about the situation in Venezuela for almost two years now. People may one day say, “Well, nothing can be done.” How do you avoid becoming discouraged?
  2. Venezuela urgently needs the world’s support. Many Europeans came to Venezuela after World War II and during the terrible 1950s, the years of reconstruction. I myself am the son of a European immigrant, an Italian from Sicily. Many Venezuelans are the children or grandchildren of immigrants who did a great deal for the country. It is now time for Europe to repay the support that it got from Venezuela in the past. I am talking about solidarity and economic support, which can be offered in many areas. I would like to encourage people to continue with it because it gives rise to a feeling of solidarity.

The heartrending testimony of a Venezuelan doctor which we give below is a reflection of the terrible problems people are still suffering from in this South American country, and of the humanitarian crisis resulting from the scarcity and high cost of medicines in particular. It comes on top of the failures in the national electricity supply system, which is affecting the hospitals and hampering the necessary treatment of patients.

In an audio message sent to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), a young doctor, her voice trembling with emotion and close to tears, speaks of her sense of impotence at being unable to save lives, owing to the lack of medicines.

She describes how, during her shift at the Central Hospital, she attended a little girl suffering acute peritonitis, after having already arrived at the hospital with a ruptured appendix. As a result they had to apply the necessary treatment to extract the festering liquid, but they had no antibiotics for her subsequent post-operative treatment.

“Her Papa told me, with tears in his eyes, that he could not continue buying the medication, because each treatment cost 50,000 bolivars, and she needed three doses a day”, the doctor explains.

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. "Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right".

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. “Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right”.

At present the minimum monthly salary in Venezuela is 20,000 bolivars, so that the father of this little girl would have had to work and save up almost 8 months salary in order to be able to purchase a single day’s treatment with the antibiotic.

In her moving account, the doctor describes how, after cleaning up the wound, she went looking for the little girl’s father to explain to him the gravity of his daughter’s condition, and found him kneeling on the floor, weeping.

“On emerging from the operating theatre, after completing the procedure, I went looking for her daddy, but couldn’t find him, because he was kneeling down, weeping in a corner, with his head against the wall.” She continues, with anguish in her voice, “I feel as though we are simply watching people die.” And she also berates the country’s political leaders for their inefficient work. “I don’t understand the politicians. This is affecting us all… We doctors can put up with being without light and without water, we can find a way of working around it, but I cannot bear to see our poorest people suffering and burying their children.”

House of the Mercy for elderly people in Carupano, Venezuela. Everyday elderly people come here to get a warm meal organised by the diocese.

House of the Mercy for elderly people in Carupano, Venezuela. Everyday elderly people come here to get a warm meal organised by the diocese.

On Tuesday, 2 April the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference published a message in which they reaffirm “the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights” and in their turn denounce the lack of respect for human rights and the “crimes against humanity” to which the Venezuelan people are subjected, including “the deliberate imposition of (harmful) conditions of life, such as the depriving of access to food and medication”.

“Unfortunately this has been happening in our own country, beneath the complacent gaze of the authorities who have the responsibility of watching over the respect and defence of human rights”, the bishops state in their message.

The bishops urge a redoubling of prayers for Venezuela, in order to achieve “the necessary conversion”. And they appeal to the Virgin Mary to “accompany our people on the Way of the Cross they are now walking, in the hope of the Paschal liberation that was achieved by her Son Jesus Christ.”

 “In this time of legal darkness, there has been added a literal darkness”

The political and economic crisis that is ravaging Venezuela has become even worse in recent days as a result of the electricity blackout that has affected the whole country, 23 different states, since March 7 this year. According to information provided by Caritas to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), the electricity crisis has affected almost every other area of the supply chain, including water, gasoline, transport, communications and the hospitals.

“Sources tell us that the problem originated as a result of a breakdown in the central hydroelectric generating station which provides energy for 80% of the country”, the Caritas report explains. Nonetheless, the authorities of the government-controlled National Executive allege that the emergency was caused by “electronic warfare” as a result of a “terrorist cyber-attack” from abroad.

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. "Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right".

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. “Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right”.

In different statements, gathered by ACN, most of the Venezuelan bishops have now spoken out in response to this grave crisis, which has left some communities without electricity for over 130 hours now, provoking chaos and consternation among the population, social tensions and looting, as well as shutting down schools and businesses.

Archbishop Ulises Gutiérrez of Ciudad Bolívar stated that “the country has been left in the dark, with blackouts throughout the country for over five days now. They have affected the hospitals and clinics, the public services, communications, banking activities, paralysing the country as never before in its history. A significant number of our fellow citizens have died through not getting the medical attention they needed, as a result of the lack of electric power.”

The Caritas report indicates that according to information from the organisation Médicos Unidos, some 20 individuals have died throughout the country, as a result of the electricity outage in the hospitals.

Bishop Mario Moronta of San Cristóbal stated that the authorities, “far from listening to the just complaints of the people, continue to harden the hearts of those who hold in their hands the solution to the difficulties, and above all to the central problem for which these same people are clamouring – namely a change of political direction and not the imposition of an unacceptable system that is not at the service of the men and women of Venezuela.”

Mons. Mario del Valle Moronta Rodriguez Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal in Venezuela on the board to Colombia.

Mons. Mario del Valle Moronta Rodriguez Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal in Venezuela on the board to Colombia.

For his part Bishop Ernesto Romero of the apostolic vicariate of Tucupita, declared that “the paralysis of the electricity supply throughout almost the whole of the country is nothing more than a demonstration of the indifference, laziness, lack of maintenance and incompetence of the national government.”

The emergency has led people to resort to desperate and unsafe measures, such as collecting water from unclean sources, eating partly rotten food and undergo risky mobilization.

Bishop Polito Rodríguez of the diocese of San Carlos announced that “Venezuela is today confronting the worst humanitarian crisis in its history as a republic; human rights are being violated with impunity. In essence, freedom and equality have been disregarded by those who are governing.”

Bishop José Manuel Romero Barrios of El Tigre has also spoken out, saying that the life of the Venezuelan people “has been subjected to a growing structural violence which, while not actually physically attacking the humanity of its people, is nonetheless expressed in the failure of those responsible for the management of society to attend to the most basic needs of the population.”

Speaking in similar terms, Archbishop Jesús González de Zárate of Cumaná called on people to raise their voices “to denounce the lies, the injustice, the use of violence, the fanatical desire to divide and control us, the repression and persecution of legitimate protest and all those things within our society that are contrary to the plan of God.”

"Bishops speak out over electricity blackout in Venezuela".

“Bishops speak out over electricity blackout in Venezuela”.

Bishop Ángel Caraballo, the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Cabimas, added that “in this time of legal darkness, of darkness in relation to social security, darkness in relation to food, darkness in regard to civic peace, there has been added a literal darkness, an additional element which simply adds to the humiliation suffered by the Venezuelan people, through the fault of the regime, which has forgotten about people in order to sustain a dominant political system that has brought only tragedy, death, unrest and misery where ever it has been implemented.”

Bishop Oswaldo Azuaje of the diocese of Trujillo deplored the current situation and called on his people to continue “looking for the Lord in every brother who needs us. The days of the blackout were an opportunity to witness great examples of solidarity… in the sharing of food and drinking water, gasoline for the vehicles and many other examples of people sharing their sufferings and joys together.”

The message of the bishops has brought words of relief and hope to the Venezuelan people in the midst of the dark turbulence they are currently living through. Caritas announced that it will continue to actively pursue its service of “Ollas Comunitarias” (“community cooking pots”, i.e. shared meals service) in the various different dioceses, and also its programme of “medication banks”.

United in their concern to “avoid still greater suffering and pain for the people” and in their hope for a change in the course of the political and democratic situation that Venezuela is currently going through, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference have launched a joint communiqué, together with the Conference of Male and Female Religious and the National Council of the Laity in Venezuela, published on Monday 4 February in Caracas.

The statement expresses the “determination and hope” with which the signatories urge the search “for a political transformation via a process of transparent and peaceful transition that will lead to free and legitimate elections and the resumption of a democratic course, the restoration of the rule of law, the rebuilding of the social fabric, the revival of economic production, the restoration of the morale of the country and the coming together of all the Venezuelan people.” They speak of the difficult situation that is currently being written in the annals of Venezuelan history and one that both the Venezuelan people and clergy and also the international community are witnessing with great hope, and yet at the same time with great concern.

The Venezuelan bishops during ad limina visit to Rome: Group photo of the bishops with the venezulean flag at St. Peters Basilica in Rome.

The Venezuelan bishops during ad limina visit to Rome: Group photo of the bishops with the venezulean flag at St. Peters Basilica in Rome.

In their communiqué, the presidents of the three bodies which most fully represent the Catholic Church of the country denounce “the growing, politically motivated repression, the violation of human rights and the selective and arbitrary detentions” of individuals and they insist that this path of democratic change be allowed to unfold peacefully and with the National Constitution in hand.

They express their appreciation of the work of the activists who are defending and promoting human rights at a time of crisis and despite the risks, and they urge them to continue in their concern for “the victims who are suffering injustices”. They state: “We call for personal and legal respect and security for those who are exercising this worthy service in Venezuela.” In this way they remind people that the Catholic Church is committed to helping those most in need, “acting in accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality and humanity” and at the same time they request “the necessary permissions to have access to humanitarian aid as a means of mitigating the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable of the people. Caritas Venezuela and the various other social support institutions of the Church which have a wider outreach throughout the national territory commit themselves to continuing the service we have been providing, with equity, inclusivity, transparency and effectiveness.”

The communiqué ends with a call for prayer in “every church, every home and every community, calling on the Lord to grant us peace, reconciliation, liberty and health of body and spirit.”

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. "Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right".

A poster explaining why the opposition protest. “Why do the Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime. Is a right”.

An unprecedented situation

The current political situation in Venezuela is the result of the presidential elections held in May 2018 which, according to the official government version, were won by the incumbent president Nicolas Maduro, but which were widely qualified as “illegitimate” by the majority of countries in the international community, including other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia, as well as by Canada, Spain and the United States on account of the numerous irregularities in the way in which they were held. Hence, given the illegitimate nature of the elections, President Maduro would thereby cease to be the legitimate president as from the conclusion of his previous mandate, on 10 January, and therefore no longer be recognised as President of the Republic. Instead, and in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, the acting president of Venezuela would be the president of the National Assembly of the country, who in this case is Juan Gerardo Guaidó. And so, on 11 January 2019, Guaidó announced that he would be invoking article 233 of the Constitution and calling new national elections, and on 23 January he was sworn in as acting president of Venezuela.

As one of the leading exporters of crude oil, Venezuela was once the most affluent country in South America. Today, the country has reached up to one million per cent inflation and large parts of the population are becoming ever more destitute. During a visit to the German national office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Archbishop Manuel Felipe Díaz Sánchez (63) talked about how the church is working to support the people in need and to contribute to the unity of the country. Archbishop Sánchez has headed the Archdiocese of Calabozo since 2008; the diocese is located about 300 kilometres south of the capital city of Caracas. The interview was held by Tobias Lehner.

 

Archbishop Manuel Felipe Díaz Sánchez (63)

Archbishop Manuel Felipe Díaz Sánchez (63)

 

ACN: Venezuela was once one of the most affluent countries in South America. Today, Venezuela has reached up to one million per cent inflation and large parts of the population are becoming ever more destitute. How are the people affected by the crisis in concrete terms?
Archbishop Manuel Felipe Díaz Sánchez: Here is an example that can be seen on a daily basis: somebody goes into a store and asks how much a specific item of food costs. He leaves to go get the money and comes back one hour later – only to learn that the price has in the meantime gone up. There is a shortage of everything. A lot of people are only living from rice and beans. The situation in the hospitals is especially critical. Medicines are in short supply. In some cases, the patients have to procure them themselves and sell their last valuables in order to do so. Many people see emigration as the only solution.

Numerous reports describe how the situation at the border with Columbia is becoming more and more critical. At times, the border had to be closed. Many people get stuck there because they don’t have the money for travel documents. What do you know about the situation there?
The people are primarily being taken care of by the church. That is the case in Venezuela, but also in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile, the countries that most of the people emigrate to. The parishes along the border supply food to the people, offer places to stay overnight or medical assistance. They share what little they have. We are very thankful for this solidarity.

Venezuela presents itself as a modern socialist state. Does this make things difficult for the church?
The political system in Venezuela is a colourful amalgamation of different influences: socialist, conservative, saturated with atheistic and spiritualistic ideas and a great deal more. Attempts are regularly made to drive a wedge between the bishops. But without success. At the same time, Chavez and the current president, Nicolás Maduro, have also recognised all the agreements that previous governments have concluded with the Catholic church. This is particularly relevant for the church-run schools. Ten per cent of the schools in Venezuela are owned by the church, including many trade schools. The state of course also profits by this. Many politicians deliberately cultivate the image of being very devout. However, at the same time, state officials no longer attend the ordination ceremonies for bishops. The relationship is quite contradictory.

What about church life?

Seventy-five per cent of Venezuelans are Catholics. They have remained loyal to the faith. I am often told that, of all the institutions in Venezuela, the church has the most credibility. But church life is also affected by the economic crisis: for example, because of the economic situation, it is no longer possible to hold large church events such as youth or family days. And where there are no opportunities to come together, there is also no such thing as a church community! The situation of the priests is dire as well: many suffer from extreme isolation because they are looking after a very large parish by themselves, oft in a rural area. The financial circumstances have made it impossible for them to attend meetings or to even buy what is necessary for survival. In some cases, religious have even had to leave the country because they were no longer able to financially support their monasteries or convents and work.

Is there something that the church in Venezuela can do to relieve the need of the people?

We are not rolling back our efforts in the areas of education and upbringing. We want to give young people an opportunity to build a better future. In some parishes, the priests are distributing medicines that they receive from other countries. The so-called “solidarity pots” are also a very successful initiative. Parish volunteers prepare meals for particularly destitute people from donated food. The people are very grateful for this service because they are well aware that the church is also struggling financially.

What specifically can an organisation such as “Aid to the Church in Need” do to help Venezuela?

I am not used to begging. Which makes me all the more grateful that ACN has offered to help us. The people need help so that they can buy food and medicines. However, there is also a need for pastoral support. Priests and the faithful need to be offered opportunities where they can build up networks and encourage each other. I have already mentioned the diocesan meetings; they are very important. Bibles and materials for catechesis are also in short supply. Provisions for the priests are much needed. Mass stipends are the only source of income for many of them and are crucial for their continued survival.

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ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.