Holding Together a Nation

Caracas Cardinal on Lead-up to October Elections in Venezuela

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By Maria Lozano

CARACAS, Venezuela, AUG. 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Oct. 7, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect their next president: either incumbent Hugo Chávez or opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. Amid a general atmosphere of verbal confrontation and hostility, the archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa, talked to Aid to the Church in Need about the reality of the Church and of society in his country.

Q: Close to 90% of the Venezuelan population state that they are Catholic. Is this percentage the reflection of a dynamic and committed Church? What value does this data have for you?

Cardinal Urosa: The Church in Venezuela is working very hard amid very difficult conditions, especially in these last years, given the tendency to secularization that is affecting us quite a bit -- though not as much as it is Europe. The Church in Venezuela has the strength of being the mother, the common home of the great majority of Venezuelans, who see the Church and Christ as a fundamental point of reference and this is manifested in the great religious festivities.

Q: You speak of strengths, but are there also weaknesses?

Cardinal Urosa: Yes, the great weakness is the separation between faith and life because of a series of historical circumstances that go back to colonial times and the Revolution for Independence. Evangelization, which was very good, did not continue in the 19th century with the same force (that it should have) because much evangelizing personnel was lacking, and the Church was very weakened in that period. Instead, in the 20th century, beginning in the second decade, there was a very beautiful ecclesial resurgence with the creation of new dioceses, with the arrival of new religious congregations, of very many priests from Spain, Italy, France and Belgium who did a great job and this, of course, imprinted a dynamism and leadership on the episcopate and priesthood that was quite important in the country's social life, but not in political life. In the political realm Venezuelans have been very independent, very autonomous; they don't follow the proposals of the Church, of the episcopate. However, in the religious realm, the Church is a very important reference in their life.

Q: If one goes anywhere in the country the presence of Protestant groups is evident. What repercussion does this have on the society and on the life of the Church?

Cardinal Urosa: The growth of Protestant churches and of these independent groups -- which stem from Evangelical and Pentecostal churches -- occurred especially in the decade of the 80s and 90s of the past century. Now there isn't a very marked growth. In face of this reality, the Church was strengthened a lot and halted the drain, the flight of Catholics to these atomized Protestant groups. This coincided, especially in the region of the east, in the south and in the center of the country, with a weakening in the enticement of vocations to the priesthood. The population had grown and the arrival of these groups was an answer to the people's hunger for God. At that time there was a great thrust of evangelizing action by these Protestant groups and they attracted many people especially at that time.

Q: A good part of that presence of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches appears in areas of expansion of the big cities and in marginal areas, in which the Church must also offer a clear answer.

Cardinal Urosa: In Caracas, at the end of the 60s of the past century, many women's religious congregations began to establish themselves in popular areas, and those communities were entrusted with the pastoral care of that population, something that also happened in other areas of the country. It is what we call nuns' vicariates; they are areas of a parish entrusted to a religious community. In Caracas at present we have 14, the majority of which have been in existence for 30 or 40 years, located in popular areas, in very difficult areas. 

This presence manifests the immense good that a religious community can do amid the people and, moreover, it is a living presence of the Church as an evangelizing force amid the poor. There are women religious who work with very great generosity and efficacy, and they do a great job. That is one of the options we have in Caracas and in the whole of Venezuela, the option for the poor, which the Conference of the Latin American Episcopate in Puebla already established as a priority for the whole Church. I have created five parishes in recent years, four of which are located in popular areas, because there is a vast population there, there is a great need of the living presence of the Word of God and of the Light of Christ and we are strengthening it through these parishes. Here in Caracas the vicariates also represent the implementation of that option for the poor.

Q: And vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life?

Cardinal Urosa: In the west of Venezuela, where the War of Independence was less bloody and where in some parts there were no battles, greater social, family and religious stability was preserved. This explains why in the west there are many vocations, especially in the Andean states, such as Tachira state, in Merida, in Trujillo, but also in Zulia state and in Lara (Barquisimeto). In other places, the War of Independence and the Federal War in the mid-19th century were devastating and caused great social upheaval, a great crisis, and during times and places of crisis, it is difficult for vocations to arise, because the family is broken up, hit by the situation that war creates. This historical account explains in large part why in the area of the center of Venezuela, and the east and the south there are few vocations. We are making a great effort in this respect, and the two visits from Blessed John Paul II, in 1985 and 1996, gave great impetus in the area of the center of the country and the east. However, we are aware that we have a problem that we are trying to address to resolve it, reaching youth more forcefully and proposing the priesthood to young men as a path of fulfillment, of plenitude, of service, of real usefulness for the rest of the population.

Q: You have referred to the family and some of its difficulties in the history of the country. What influence does this institution have at present on the priestly vocation?

Cardinal Urosa: The family is extremely important for the development of vocation to the priestly or religious life. The family is very important for Christian life and, hence, it is very important for the development of a vocation to consecrated life. In the west of the country they had the grace of preserving a more stable family, less stricken, more united, less broken than in the rest of Venezuela and this explains why in those areas there are more vocations. There is a proportional relation between the strength of the families and the arising of vocations to the priesthood or to the religious life.

Q: What is the Venezuelan family like? What is the Venezuelan like?

Cardinal Urosa: It is very complex to describe these people, because there is no one type of Venezuelan. In general we are an open, simple, and frank people with a very sociable, friendly and generous attitude. In regard to the family, there is great generosity in receiving abandoned children. There are families that are very happy to receive an orphaned child or one abandoned by his parents. Moreover, The Venezuelan people are very joyful and optimistic and that's a characteristic that must be kept in mind, because even if things are going badly for us, we always have a hopeful, optimistic attitude.

Q: What worries you as archbishop of Caracas?

Cardinal Urosa: The social coexistence of the Venezuelan people. It's a very serious concern, because an element of discord, of distrust, of confrontation has been introduced. Elements have been introduced that make for much confrontation. The great worry, from the social point of view, is the coexistence of Venezuelans. 

From the pastoral point of view, the great concern is the strengthening of evangelization and, in this connection, I see as very good the Holy Father's initiative to promote a much more intense evangelization in the whole world. We are doing this in Venezuela with much force.

Q: What are the main challenges of the Catholic Church in Venezuela?

Cardinal Urosa: As Church, the challenges include the strengthening of evangelization because there are many people who either have not heard of Jesus Christ or have forgotten Him. Hence the priority is the strengthening of evangelization and catechesis. Another great challenge is the work with youth, and another the vocational ministry and, finally, the need to promote social coexistence. By way of example, my last pastoral message for Lent was along this line.

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This interview was conducted by María Lozano for "Where God Weeps," a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. 

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