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ACN Feature Report: Christians as victims of global developments

06.05.2019 in Religious Freedom Report, Sri Lanka, United Nations, Venezuela, Violence against Christians, World

WORLD

2019 – One of the bloodiest years for Christians thus far 

The papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has voiced concern in the face of increasing attacks on Christians all over the world. “As the brutal bombings perpetrated against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday show, 2019 is already one of the bloodiest years for Christians,” declared the executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern.

The charity, which brings aid to poor and persecuted Christians in more than 140 countries, has become aware of and reported publicly on, among others, the following anti-religious attacks in the first four months of the year alone:
  • – Attacks by Islamist Séléka militia on a catholic mission station in Bangassou Diocese in the Central African Republic in which dozens were killed and around 20,000 people fled the violence at the first of January;

  • – The Islamist attack on the cathedral of Jolo in the southern Philippines which killed 20 people and injured around 90 at the end of January;

  • – Attacks by members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen tribe on Christian villagers in the Nigerian state of Kaduna in mid-March that left more than 130 dead; and,

  • – Attacks by extremist Hindu nationalists on a Catholic school in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu at the end of March, in which the nuns who worked there were categorically hunted down.

Jesus

Christians as victims of global developments

Heine-Geldern

“The atrocities in Sri Lanka mark the bloody climax of a trend that has endured for some years now: the persecution of Christians knows no bounds. It knows no let-up, especially on the holiest days of the Christian calendar. It knows no mercy on innocent people, who are often made scapegoats for global developments,” Heine-Geldern explains.

Following the attacks in Sri Lanka responsibility was claimed by the Islamic State terrorist militia. Security authorities harbour the assumption that the bombings may have been organized in retaliation for the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand where, in mid-March, a 28-year-old man killed 49 people in two mosques.

Aid to the Church in Need also points to the continuing Islamist threat in the Middle East, as well as the violence by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. “To say that IS has been beaten militarily and therefore no longer exists is a fallacy – the ideology lives on, as do its supporters; the contact channels appear to be working. Our project partners in the Middle East remain extremely concerned,” states Heine-Geldern.

Religion often used as a political weapon to plunge countries into chaos. Most recently additional concerns for the charity have arisen about the situation in countries on the American continent such as Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela, where bishops and priests have suffered repeated attacks as a result of political turmoil. “Here it is a mixture of political ideology and the accusation that the Church is meddling because it calls on people to resist authoritarian governments and corruption. This makes it a target for aggression and violence,” Heine-Geldern says.

 Religion: used as a weapon

In many parts of the world religion is used as a political weapon to destabilize countries and plunge them into chaos. This, Heine-Geldern continues, is what is happening again in Sri Lanka. There the Church is trying extremely hard to prevent outrage at the atrocities from spiralling into further violence. “Social stability is based to a large extent on the peaceful coexistence of the various faiths. This is something many of our project partners are working to achieve,” comments Heine-Geldern.

It is rare for anti-Christian attacks to attract public attention. Thus, the perilous situation in which the Christian minority in Pakistan finds itself first became internationally known through the fate of Asia Bibi, a mother who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy and acquitted by the court of last instance. Together with other organisations, Aid to the Church in Need had campaigned for her release. Notwithstanding this, Asia Bibi’s fate still remains uncertain.

Religious and political extremism: main causes of persecution

Extremist Islamism, excessive nationalism and authoritarian ideologies are still the main drivers of persecution against Christians and other religious minorities. This is also the conclusion of the Religious Freedom Report, the latest edition of which ACN presented in November 2018 and which illuminates the situation in 196 countries. “We note with great concern that, regrettably, none of these three trends has diminished – quite the contrary. This is currently evident among other places in African states such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin, where the hostilities on mission stations, priests and nuns have dramatically increased. People are becoming more and more frightened,” Heine-Geldern observes. According to Heine-Geldern, this distressing development must be challenged. “It is the duty of governments and the UN to bring about peace, to guarantee freedom of religion and to repel anti-religious attacks,” says Heine-Geldern. As for Church, Heine-Geldern says, their role is to stand by the persecuted Christians through prayer and active support and to give them a voice and a face. “ACN has been campaigning for this for more than 70 years. In view of the growing violence against Christians, it is a cause worthy of every support and every effort.”

The 2018 Report on Religious Freedom is available at : www.religious-freedom-report.org.  
For a quicker overview, please go to view our summary version for the report:  Religious Freedom Report 2018

Bishops speak out over electricity blackouts in Venezuela

18.03.2019 in ACN International, ACN International, By Johan Pacheco, By Johan Pacheco, South America, Venezuela

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 charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the electricity crisis has affected almost every other area of the supply chain, including water, gasoline, transport, communications and the hospitals.

By Johan Pacheco, ACN-International
Canadian English Review: Mario Bard, ACN-Canada
On line in Canada: March 18, 2019

Bishops-speak-out-over-electricity-blackouts-in-Venezuela-flag

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.

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.

Many people died

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, paralyzing 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 organization 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.”

Surviving with dirty water

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.”

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 wherever 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 different dioceses, and also its programme of “medication banks”

ACN-Canada invites his benefactors to pray for the People of Venezuela who is suffering from so much repression.

Thank you for what you can do to help the Church in the spiritual work She does along the material one, to maintain in the heart of the population hope and faith in the adversity.

On Sunday, February 10th, pray for Venezuela!

08.02.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, By Mario Bard, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Venezuela

Venezuela

Call to pray for the country on Sunday, February 10

 

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 has 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, February 4th in Caracas.

Photo : María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

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.

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 stress that this path of democratic change to 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 safety 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 permission 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 on Sunday, February 10th in “every church, every home and every community, calling on the Lord to grant us peace, reconciliation, liberty and health of body and spirit.”

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 current President Nicolas Maduro, but which were widely qualified as “illegitimate” by the majority of countries in the international community. It includes other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia, as well as Canada, Spain and the United States. They base their decision on accounts of numerous irregularities in the way in which elections were held.

Hence, given the illegitimate nature of the elections, President Maduro would thereby cease to be the legitimate president as at the conclusion of his previous mandate, on 10 January, and therefore no longer be recognized 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.

 

PLEASE, on Sunday, February 10th, please pray for the People of Venezuela! 


 

ACN Interview: Bishop Oswaldo Azaje from Venezuela

25.10.2018 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Raquel Martín & Josué Villalón, Poverty, Refugees, Venezuela

Msgr. Oswaldo Azuaje, Bishop of Trujillo in Venezuela, during his visit at Aid to the Church in Need

Venezuela

A cry for help

According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and other international organizations, more than two million people have left Venezuela in the last few years. This forced displacement reflects the severe economic, political and social crisis that has befallen the country. The church in Venezuela is dealing with this situation together with the people by initiating social projects to relieve shortages in food and medicines. But the Church’s own situation can only be described as precarious – the bishops and priests themselves have next to nothing at the moment.

 Interview with Bishop Oswaldo Azaje , conducted by Raquel Martín & Josué Villalón (ACN Spain)

Bishop Oswaldo Azuaje of Trujillo, which is located in the eastern part of Venezuela, responded to the questions of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The charity has been supporting the Venezuelan church in its pastoral and social work. The interview focused on the recent ad limina visit of the Venezuelan episcopate to the pope in Rome as well as the church’s efforts to help those who have left the country and those in need who have remained.

 

In Venezuela, the diocese of Trujillo is one of the poorest regions in the country. How would you describe the situation at the moment?

Economically, Trujillo is one of the country’s poorest regions. It is located in the Andes, in a mountainous region that is predominantly rural. However, I would not describe the region as poor because it possesses great riches both in terms of culture and of the people living there. Daily life there is very similar to that in the rest of the country. We are suffering from shortages in food and medicines, many people have moved to other countries, the economy is stagnating. It could be that, when compared with the capital and a number of other larger cities in the country, the food shortage is more noticeable in the villages.

 

What message did Pope Francis give to the bishops and the Venezuelan people during the ad limina visit at the Vatican?

The pope was very open and friendly. We are quite fortunate that he comes from the same continent and we speak the same language. Pope Francis sat down right in our midst. We formed a circle around him and he said to us, “Tell me how you are doing.” We noticed that he knows a great deal about the church in Venezuela, what life is like in the country and the difficulties society is currently facing. He pointed out that we should be very close to the people, that we need to find answers to their needs. He reminded us, “Remain strong and close to the people. I know that you are already doing this, but I invite you to continue to do so.” He also invited us to offer resistance. This was the first time I have heard the term used in this context. Because it had nothing to do with politics, populism or with a military language. We are to offer resistance by remaining constant in our faith, in our hope and in our love.

 

 

How does the Church assist those people who are leaving the country?

I was able to visit the Columbian border in Táchira state. The diocese of San Cristóbal on the Venezuelan side and the diocese of Cúcuta on the Columbian side are making large-scale efforts. I mingled with the people who were crossing the border to Columbia. It is impressive: each day, thousands of people leave. Each day, the church feeds between 5,000 and 8,000 people, although these are just estimates of the numbers of people who are being taken care of by the church alone. Some do return, but not many. Those that return are people who, due to the shortages in Venezuela; were merely looking for something available only in Columbia. Once they have acquired it, they return home. Furthermore, the Church is also taking care of Venezuelan refugees in Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

Border Venezuela-Colombia in 2018
Since the recent controversial presidential elections in Venezuela (in which President Maduro was re-elected in a manner deemed fraudulent by his opponents), the flood of migrants seeking better prospects in other nations has continued to grow, creating an emergency in which thousands of Venezuelans are in need of help as they attempt to cross the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia.

What are the consequences of this displacement?

In the parishes, there is a noticeable absence of young and middle-aged people. There is a growing incidence of Church attendance by older people accompanying their grandchildren. The parents have left in search of work. Several priests have told me that they no longer have a church choir because the young people have all left. They now have to find new choir members who can sing or play an instrument and train them. The people are being forced into leaving because of the extreme shortages in food and medicines. The people need them. However, they cannot find them in the country or buy them because money has devalued.

 

How is the Church responding to the needs of those people who have remained in the country?

In response to the food shortages, the parishes are preparing so-called “community stews” each day to ensure that those in need have something to eat. Signs of malnutrition are found among children, and also the elderly. My sister called me a few days ago. She is taking care of my mother and wanted to let me know that she could not find any chicken, eggs or meat. She did not know where else to go because she could not buy them in any store. Finding groceries is a very time-consuming process – if it is even possible at all. The daily search for food has become a Via Dolorosa.

 

How would you assess the aid that ACN is giving to the priests in your diocese?

I would first like to thank the Venezuelan people; all of those who have shared and continue to share the little that they have with us. Lately, however, we have become dependent upon help from outside. Life would be impossible without it. I would like to thank the church in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy and Spain. It supports us so that we in turn can help our priests: Mass stipends allow them to live in a manner that is worthy of human beings. Moreover, this aid keeps us connected through prayer, and ensures that we do not lose hope. I pray to God for saintly priests, but also that these priests are able to support themselves in a worthy manner, so that they can serve the people of God and can live more in conformity with their calling.

Children waiting for food

A last message to the benefactors of ACN

Thanks to all of you, our parishes will be able to continue to offer consolation and shed light into the darkness that casts such a pall over Venezuela. The shortages in food and medicines, in water and electricity are a major source of stress, one that we need to fight against. Please pray for the bishops so that we do not succumb to temptation and throw in the towel. It is our responsibility to help the people by supporting the priests. Please continue to help us so that we in turn can ensure that our priests have a worthy means of subsistence, and thus be able to continue offering the community stews as well as medicines and other forms of aid.

 

 

 

ACN Feature Story: South America – Priests in the frontier zone – instruments of spiritual comfort

30.07.2018 in ACN International, By Johan Pacheco, Venezuela

South America

Priests in the frontier zone – instruments of spiritual comfort

“Many people arrive here weeping, with serious problems, anxious or saddened because they are leaving their country, because they have nothing to eat, or can’t get medicines, and our mission is to comfort them with the light of the Word of God and with prayer.” Father Esteban Galvis tells us, he is the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in the suburb of Aguas Calientes, in Ureña, Venezuela, bordering on Colombia.

Caring for migrants at the border, and for the people living in poverty in the frontier zone itself, means not only giving material help despite the limitations, but above all being able to provide pastoral and spiritual support.

“We are the poor, caring for the poor”

“We are facing a very harsh reality, a particularly difficult situation,” Father Estaban explains. “On the one hand there are the would-be emigrants, passing through our parish centres and on the other, the poverty of the local families living here close to the border; our own people, who continue to be affected by the critical situation in the country.”

“We are the poor, caring for the poor – even though we can only offer them a glass of sweetened sugarcane water,” he says.

 

As the parish priest in Aguas Calientes, he is aware that “every individual and every family group has its own particular story to tell, but they all share a trust in God. And they come to the priest and to the parishes, seeking a refuge where they can find new strength and consolation. They come to confess, and to entrust themselves into God’s hands.”

“One memorable story was that of Juan Carlos, who was travelling with his wife and son from Falcón State (in northwest Venezuela), hoping to reach another country; but by the time he got here, he had no money left to continue his journey,” Father Esteban explains.“Here was a man weeping, together with his wife, because they didn’t know what to do next. The first thing I did was to pray with them, asking God to enlighten us; then I shared some food with them. And then, during the day, somebody else from our community offered them a place to stay for the night. So they decided to remain in the area. During the day they travel to work in Cúcuta (Colombia). Little by little they are finding a solution, with the help of God.”

In the frontier parishes’  social outreach has been strengthened especially through such spiritual care and companionship, for “in this lies our principal mission. Many people come to the church, weeping, with their problems and concerns. And our task is to be instruments of God in consoling and comforting these people,” Father Esteban explains.

 

Inflation making the situation impossible

As part of his pastoral activities in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Aguas Calientes, he also organizes days of Eucharistic adoration and provides constant spiritual guidance for people seeking comfort and support.

“Ever since the border was closed,” he adds, “we have been running social action campaigns and sharing the little food we have, but inflation is making this work impossible for us. We continue to help, but with the very barest minimum, and with particular emphasis on the elderly and children, since we don’t have enough for everyone.”

A recent newsletter, Movilidad Humana Venezolana, published in May of this year by the Jesuit Refugee Service in Venezuela, reports that the principal reasons driving Venezuelans to cross over the border are insecurity – the worry about what is happening in the country and the uncertainty of what will come next, hunger, high levels of daily stress,, a lack of medicines and of medical treatment. 83.6% emigrated in search of a safer place to live, and 31.2% even felt forced to flee their homes.

Recently, there was a meeting of the Asamblea de Laicos de la Frontera, a group of committed laypeople with their priests and the local bishop of the diocese of San Cristóbal,. They all gathered to renew their commitment to special and continuing pastoral service here in the border region.

Father Esteban Galvis emphasizes that Christians must make a serious commitment to “prayer and fasting, since this will help us resolve the situation”. And he concludes by inviting us all to unite with them in this task: “We are a source of comfort and counsel to those who live here and to those who have migrated here and suffer. I invite all those who would like to help us to join in prayer for the people living here, because God is our only strength.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need recently visited the town of San Antonio de Tachira, in Colombia, in order to offer support in the present difficult situation and show solidarity with the dioceses located on the Venezuela -Colombia border.

 

ACN Feature Story – Helplessness at the Venezuelan border

14.06.2018 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Johan Pacheco, Feature Story, Venezuela

Aid to the Church in Need recently visited the town of San Antonio de Tachira, in Colombia, in order to offer support and show solidarity with the dioceses on the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia in the present difficult situation and to study the possibility of providing support in the future for the planned migrant hostel, the Casa del Migrante.

 


 Venezuela

A picture of helplessness on the Venezuelan border

Since the recent controversial presidential elections in Venezuela (in which President Maduro was re-elected in a manner deemed fraudulent by his opponents), the flood of migrants seeking better prospects in other nations has continued to grow, creating an emergency in which thousands of Venezuelans are in need of help as they attempt to cross the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia.

 

On the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, which links the two cities of San Antonio del Táchira (Venezuela) and San José de Cúcuta (Colombia), the security checks are strict for everyone attempting to leave Venezuela, a country that is undergoing a grave political, economic and social crisis. Many people do not succeed in crossing over the border, and as a result, they are forced to wander the streets of this border-town in search of humanitarian aid.

 

A significant increase in Venezuelan migrants

That is what happened to Fernando and Marisela and their two children aged three and seven, Luis and Camila.  The family travelled from Caracas hoping to cross the border and aiming to travel as far as Ecuador, but because of difficulties with the children’s papers, they were unable to leave the country.

“Life is difficult in the capital; it’s better to emigrate,” says Fernando. But now, with dwindling funds, they have to spend the nights in the town square, along with other would-be migrants, and do casual work while trying to find a solution to their problems and continue their journey.

A report published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on 14 May this year indicates that the number of Venezuelan migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean grew from 89,000 in 2015 to 900,000 in 2017 – a growth rate of over 900%. That is without counting the Venezuelan citizens who cross the border illegally into Colombia or Brazil.

Hundreds of people cross this bridge every day on foot – as it has been closed to vehicular traffic since August 2015. Some people use this crossing in order to travel on to other countries of South America, while others head for the city of Cúcuta, hoping to buy food or medicines and then return. A few people decide to stay on at the frontier, seeking casual work of one kind or another.

Like young Andrés Vargas, for example. Aged 18, he travelled from Barquisimeto, hoping to get to Chile, but his money ran out, so he decided to stay at the border. “Here I manage to earn a little money taking other travelers to the ticket sales office, and that’s enough for me to eat and from time to time pay for accommodation,” he explains.

Some people, after a long journey, find themselves unable to cross over because they have arrived at the wrong time, since the crossing is completely closed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. That is what happened to the Fonseca family – father, mother and their three young daughters – after travelling for 12 hours by bus from Valencia. When they arrived at San Antonio, the crossing was closed, so they had to spend the night in the street in the open air. “It was an adventure. That unpleasant night was like nothing we had experienced in the last few years,” Carlos Fonseca explains.

 

The Church in Venezuela – guided by the Holy Spirit

For Bishop Mario Moronta of the diocese of San Cristóbal in Venezuela, the situation on the frontier here is “a picture of the helplessness of so many Venezuelans who cannot obtain even the most basic necessities for daily life – food, medicines and other similar things.”

Faced with such a situation, the bishop assures us, “The Church, moved and guided by the Holy Spirit, is trying to address the situation with her charitable work, doing whatever lies within her power, humanly speaking, to help the migrants.”

Father Reinaldo Contreras, the rector of the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, which is just a few metres from the border, explains that the Church is responding to this situation through her social outreach – but “with great difficulty, given the shortages and the high prices of food and the lack of any infrastructure for providing adequate care for the migrants,” he adds.

Nevertheless, the parishes on this major border-crossing run regular daily feeding programs so as to provide the most vulnerable migrants with at least one square meal. Father Reinaldo also explained how they are investigating the possibility of doing up some kind of a centre as a migrant hostel, so that they can offer a more comprehensive form of aid.

Many of the migrants who succeed in crossing the frontier into Colombia also receive help from the “Casa de Paso Divina Misericordia”, the Divine Mercy overnight shelter belonging to the diocese of Cúcuta, which provides them with medical services, pastoral support and gives out over a thousand meals daily.

Bishop Victor Manuel Ochoa of Cúcuta, who has recently been in contact with the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), described the situation as “a drama of suffering” and asked for our prayers. “The Church is present here on the border. We wanted to be a helping hand to accompany our Venezuelan brothers and sisters in their suffering. I recall how Father Werenfried, the founder of ACN, provided food for the refugees in 1947.

We want to follow in his footsteps. I ask you all to pray for Venezuela and for Colombia, that we may be able to find a way of peace and reconciliation.”


 

ACN Project of the Week – Venezuela

16.05.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, South America, Venezuela

Venezuela

A  pastoral centre for youth in La Guaira

Venezuela is descending ever deeper into crisis. The people are desperate and bitter, violence is growing, the murder rate is rising, many souls are seeking refuge and solace in drugs. The Church stands strong by those who are suffering and tries to give them hope.

In these difficult times, Bishop Raùl Biord Castillo of La Guaira, who is based in the northern part of the country, would like to strengthen the pastoral ministry. Seeking a means to do so, he has asked himself the following question: “What does God want for us?”

Venezuela, La Guaira, 2018
Msgr. Raúl Biord Castillo, Bishop of La Guaira with the faithful.

The bishop is particularly concerned about the country’s young people. Youth groups have already been set up in several parishes and a number of spiritual movements assist in youth pastoral ministry. Their goal is to address the issues that deeply concern young people and accompany them on their spiritual journey, in the hopes of integrating these young people into the spiritual life of the community and deepening their faith.

Spiritual vocations are to be promoted as well. The pastoral ministry needs to take the differing needs of each social environment into consideration, because young people face different problems depending upon whether they grew up in rural areas, in cities or in the suburbs. The young people range from university students to young workers, and so there are countless difficult circumstances that need to be addressed, such as drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution, street children, violence, crime, and the incarceration.

Some parishes do not have any place to hold the youth programs and often lack people able to devote themselves to this apostolate. For this reason, the bishop wants to set up a “school for group leaders” housing it in a former convent which they would convert into a meeting place, thus killing two birds with one stone! The facility could be used to train group leaders and youth groups from parishes that do not have a suitable place to meet could use the building for retreats and a range of pastoral activities.

Venezuela, La Guaira, 2018
Mgr. Raúl Biord Castillo, Bishop of La Guaira with youth.

The chosen location of the facility is ideal because it is situated in the mountains where temperatures are not too hot and a beautiful panoramic view acts as balm to the soul. The demand is great; the facility is already almost fully booked! Unfortunately, only groups of maximally 20 people can use the facility as it is now. Once the renovations are complete, it will accommodate up to 80 overnight guests.

 

Aid to the Church in Need would like to help hope flourish by setting up this facility in support of the young people who will benefit from it!  If you would like to contribute to this project – simply click the donate button and select the ‘Project of the Week’!

 

 


 

ACN INTERVIEW – Bishops of Venezuela call on governement

25.05.2017 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Venezuela
Photograph María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

ACN INTERVIEW – Venezuela

The call of  Venezuelan bishops to the government

Cardinal Baltazar Porras: “The room to manoeuvre freely is getting smaller and smaller. At the moment, everything here is one-dimensional.”

During a visit to the international head office of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the archbishop of Mérida, Venezuela, Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras, spoke with María Lozano about the exceedingly grave condition of the country and emphasizing the terrible situation the people are in due to of a lack of medicine and food. He also spoke about  the prayer day for peace in Venezuela held this past Sunday, May 21, initiated by the Bishops’ Conference.

Over the last few weeks, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has released two statements on the grave events and the violent political conflicts currently taking place in the country. They are calling for Venezuelans to “repudiate each and every violent statement and to respect the rights of all citizens.” The Bishops’ Conference underlined the duty of the state constitution to ensure that “civil and non-violent protest is possible.” In their last letter dated May 5, the bishops described the latest decisions of the Maduro government and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice as “misguided” and “unnecessary.” They asked that the “constitution not be changed, but followed.” The government should concentrate on the country’s current problems, such as the lack of “foods, medicine, freedom, personal and legal safety as well as peace.”

 

Cardinal Porras, one of the signatories of the letters and honorary chair of the Bishops’ Conference, explained during his visit to the international pontifical charity, ACN, the necessity of these declarations on the part of the Venezuelan church, which needs to take on a “responsible role.” He describes this role as “a kind of subsidiarity task that goes beyond that which would be necessary in other circumstances and says that, at the moment, “the people face reprisals when they do not agree with the official politics or if they hold a different opinion: threats, fines, prison sentences, deportation … The current social climate can scarcely be understood from the outside. The room to manoeuvre freely is getting smaller and smaller. At the moment, everything here is one-dimensional.”

In this context, the archbishop of Mérida considers the lack of respect for the right to pluralism to be especially serious. “It is all about pushing through a system in which nothing other than the official opinion counts. The others are not allowed. If, for example, a demonstration is planned, a parallel event is immediately organized on the same day and at the same time. It is all about showing who is more powerful.” Cardinal Porras deplores that “the discourse on class warfare” is still alive in Venezuela. “One person achieves something by using hatred against the other. This is the militaristic discourse of ‘anyone who is not with me, is against me’. Eliminating the enemy is the only important thing. This has torn social coexistence apart.”

The archbishop does not mention Nicolás Maduro by name. But the responsibility of the current government is assumed when the cardinal emphasizes that the root of the problem can be traced back to much earlier times. “The 18 years of the Chávez government and then Maduro are also the result of the deterioration that occurred during the years preceding them. Venezuela was able to grow thanks to oil. The country grew both economically and in its infrastructure. But the accelerated growth also led the governing class to forget the people. After all, this is a gift of nature and not the result of personal hard work. The government did a lot of things, but they forgot the people. This is why the ‘Messianic’ discourse was later taken up with such enthusiasm.”

 

Obstacles to humanitarian aid

A native of Caracas, the 72-year-old cardinal openly criticizes “the pooling of all government powers. This leads to impunity and corruption.” A key to the problem is also the desire to always make others responsible for the bad. “This is repeated over and over again. All bad things are ascribed to others. Or, comparisons are made to the past. This is how teenagers act! For example, when the fact that there are political prisoners in Venezuela today is called into question, the response is that there were also political prisoners in the past. But the problems are here now, especially the lack of food and medicine as well as safety.”

These are the three problems that the archbishop worries about most. It is obvious just by looking at him. “I had to bury a 35-year-old priest who had had a cerebral haemorrhage. According to the physicians, he could have been saved had a certain drug been available to us, one that is not that unusual. But we did not have it. And so, he died. This happens every day. Because we do not even have the basic supplies for surgical procedures, for accidents, for old people or babies, who usually need a more special kind of medication.”

Officially, “this is all disclaimed. It is not acceptable to talk about humanitarian aid. Because according to official reports, we have everything. But anyone who travels to Venezuela can see that this is not the case. And anyone who gives voice to this arouses the suspicion of standing for something else.” Cardinal Porras, who is also the director of Caritas Venezuela, thanks the international community for the support it has provided. However, inside the country, he comes up “against a wall. It is very difficult to build a bridge to ensure that the aid arrives. Because we come up against obstacles.” The media plays an equally important role in the internal conflict. The political disputes have been transformed into a media war. “If I say, ‘medicine is not available here,’ a photograph of medicine immediately appears. It is then said: ‘that is not true, look at this’. And this happens with everything, with food, with domestic security, etc.”

Photograph María Alejandra Mora (SoyMAM)

“The family, diversity, and consensus are threatened.

The church is trying to defend them.”


When you talk about solutions, the question arises whether the Venezuelan people are not sick of dialogue yet. “Talking about the dialogue in Venezuela today is almost an insult because experiences have been terrible. Dialogue was used merely as a photo opportunity. The actual problems were not talked about, they have not been solved. In order for this to be possible, the other person has to accept you as a discussion partner.” This is why the archbishop insists that a second side is indispensable for achieving a real dialogue. “Holding to agreements. A real offer was made to keep agreements, but these were never kept. Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin addressed this in a letter from December 2016. He wrote that there can be no dialogue as long as not even the slightest attempt is made to keep agreements. This may be why the cardinal prefers to talk about consensus and pluralism instead of using the hackneyed and manipulated term “dialogue.” “Dispute is not a part of our culture. One example: people used to prefer to go to a baseball game – the most popular sport in our country – together with someone who was a fan of the other team. This was a lot more fun for them. This friendly disposition has been diluted. Now everything is about politics and you can only be for it or against it. Life is very rich and now everything is about politics. The family, diversity, and consensus are threatened. The church is trying to defend them.”

He asks the international community “to try to get real and timely information so as not to be taken in by lies.” He also asks for prayers and support. “It is all too understandable that everyone is busy with their own daily challenges, but we live in a globalized world. This is even more the case for the Christians. In Venezuela, we need prayer as a source of inner strength that prevents us from being robbed of hope and joy. Difficulties are there to be overcome and not to make us cry.”

Conferencia Episcopal de Venezuela

A day of  prayer was initiated by the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela on Sunday, May 21 – “to end violence and state oppression as well as to search for ways of communication and reconciliation.”

Contact to the world church – according to Cardinal Porras – lends courage. It “leads us to feel a growing desire to overcome the difficulties. They are an incentive to continue to do everything imaginable for our brothers and sisters. I would like to say one more thing. Among the medicine that we are allowed to receive in Mérida, there were also small boxes bearing labels written in Arabic and English. Puzzled, I asked where this medicine had come from. They had been sent to us from Christians in Egypt. When several days later an attack was carried out against Christians in this country, I was deeply moved and felt a profound connection to this country. Samaritan solidarity leads us to give our material and spiritual best.”

 


 

 

Journey with ACN – Venezuela

23.01.2015 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Journey with ACN, Venezuela

 

© Aid to the Church in Need

JOURNEY WITH ACN is  our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have helped to bring into being together with ACN benefactors.

This week:   Venezuela

Child’s Bibles and Rosary booklets for children in Carúpano 

In Venezuela Christians make up 94.3% of the population, and Catholics 85.1%. However, relations between the Catholic Church and the Venezuelan government have not been easy in recent years. Under Hugo Chavez, there were many attacks on individual churchmen and on Church properties – including nationalization of the latter in some cases. Chávez – whose avowed role model was Fidel Castro – repeatedly accused the Church of manipulating the people and interfering in politics – a stance seen by Church observers as a reaction to the fact that  the Church was seen as sympathetic towards the opposition.

The so-called “Socialism of the 21st-century” proclaimed by Chávez initially functioned basically as a market economy, but soon became conspicuous for the dominant role of state owned companies. The successor to Chávez, Nicolas Maduro, is continuing with the same economic policy. Despite its massive oil wealth, Venezuela is still a poor country today, and the number of those in extreme poverty (i.e. earning less than $1.25 a day) actually increased last year by three quarters of a million people. One third of the economic output of the country comes from the state-run oil production, while in some coastal regions – such as the diocese of Carúpano – people also live in part by fishing and by tourism. This widespread poverty is likewise a challenge for the Catholic Church, which seeks to help the people, both materially and spiritually.

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

The Diocese of Carúpano, which was formally established only in the year 2000 by Pope John-Paul II, has a high percentage of children. Consequently, Bishop Jaime José Villarroel attaches particular importance to the education of children in the Faith, and he is delighted that this aspect has developed so strongly within his diocese. Here in Carúpano the Church has already worked with the publications of ACN, which have helped her to enrich her catechetical work by presenting the life of Jesus and Mary and the basic prayers and principles of the Catholic Faith in an accessible and child friendly manner. Now the bishop is asking for additional copies – 10,000 copies each of the ACN Child’s Bible ($13,000), the children’s Catechism ($17,600) and the Rosary booklet ($4,880), along with 200 poster sets – to be distributed in the 22 parishes and five vicariates of his diocese. These publications will also be used for the diocesan youth days. With your help it will soon be possible for every child in Carúpano to have a copy of the Child’s Bible.

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