(On 13 July 2018, the website “Vatican Insider” (http://www.lastampa.it/vaticaninsider/ita) published in Italian this article by Luciano Zanardini about the situation the Oblates in Venezuela have been facing for several years.)
“The situation in Venezuela is a disaster. Having the highest inflation in the world, after four consecutive years, is making the minimum monthly wage of the Venezuelans the lowest in the world: less than a dollar a month! There is no economy that can survive this situation. There is widespread discouragement in society and there is a desire to move to other countries”.
Father José Manuel CICUÉNDEZ, a Spaniard, arrived in Venezuela in 1999 when Hugo Chavez came to power. Therefore, he has lived through several periods, including the latest, the most dramatic.
“The government, supported by the military, has full control of power in the country: executive, judicial and legislative. President Maduro has absolute powers and may dictate the law without consulting the legislative assembly. On the other hand, the opposition is divided and weakened: many of its leaders are imprisoned. There is no alternative plan. The most painful thing is that, despite all the power, the government is not able to find solutions to the problems of the nation: inflation to the stars, lack of food and medicine, violence and impunity, corruption… Its only obsession is to remain in power”.
The Church has repeatedly tried to foster dialogue between the government and the opposition, but it did not work. She continues to look for solutions to the real problems. She continually asks for justice and peace and tries to educate people about these values. Father Cicuéndez, a parish priest in the city of Catia la Mar, 34 km from the capital, is a teacher in the seminary and is responsible for the diocesan formation of the laity. The parish of the Oblates embraces a population of 60 thousand inhabitants. In addition to Father Josè, there is his compatriot Monsignor Ramiro DIAZ, bishop emeritus of the Apostolic Vicariate of Machiques, and the Congolese, Father Nene TASAR. The missionaries run a parish center for education and work training for children and adolescents. According to their charism, they try to “walk with the people and stay close to the poor”.
From 2015 to today, they have formed 16 basic ecclesial communities, but the dream is to have even more. Another priority is undoubtedly kerygmatic catechesis. In the last two years, lay ministries have been formed and established: for evangelization, for liturgy, for social ministry, for catechesis and for youth ministry. “It is a service that makes the Church grow”.
What can the Venezuelan Church do and how is it doing?
“The Venezuelan Church suffers, like the whole country, the serious social, economic and political crisis. We cannot be aloof from this reality. Many lay people, especially the young, emigrate. The situation is very painful because we lose active members in the communities. The crisis prevents us from having resources for normal pastoral activities; many priests have great economic difficulties. Sometimes political tensions have been reflected within the community itself: some laity and priests, always fewer and fewer, support the government and others are against it. These divisions weaken the Church. However, despite many adversities, the Church represents a sign of hope and credibility for society. She continue to announce Jesus in a very painful moment. In our diocese of La Guaira, there is a process of renewal of the pastoral plan “.
Is there still room for God?
“When so many things fail, when people go hungry, when there are no medicines and hospitals do not have the means to take care of the sick, when there is no hope for change, when families break up because of emigration, the people approach us… Many people come to us, seeking comfort, hope and words of encouragement. There is a lot of room for God in our society and in our people in Venezuela. In this sense, there is always more room for God”.
What is the main difficulty you encounter?
“The main difficulty is in the shortages: basic food, personal hygiene products, medicines, spare parts for vehicles… Inflation makes many products unattainable with our money. In the same way, there is the great threat of insecurity and violence: robberies are very frequent. We have been robbed several times in the house, in the parish and in the car. We would need humanitarian aid: medicines and food. The national government prevents us from importing this aid and refuses to recognize the terrible situation we are experiencing. We need everyone’s prayers for our country”.
Are there any current projects happening?
“We have set in motion several projects with the diocesan Caritas and with the one in the parish. One of these is a food center in the poorest area of the parish: three days a week we distribute a meal to 90 children and the elderly. The second project is the distribution of medicines that we receive thanks to small donations from abroad. And the third is a parish close closet. Maybe they are small actions to deal with difficulties, but it is still the action of a community “.