Venezuelan Bishops Concerned About Weakening Faith in the Country

Call for Compliance of the Constitution Regarding New Presidential Mandate

Madrid, (Zenit.org) Nieves San Martin | 1633 hits

The XCIX Ordinary Assembly of Venezuelan Bishops and Archbishops is currently taking place at the headquarters of the country's Episcopal Conference, from January 7-12. The prelates are focusing on the religious situation of the nation, of the Church and on other topics of national interest.

In the opening ceremony of the Ordinary Assembly, the Episcopal Conference's president, Archbishop Diego Padrón, said that the "the country's religious picture suffers from the same weakening of the faith as other countries of Latin America." Therefore, he insisted on the obligation to "not stay in isolated and occasional activities but to structure and, above all, to articulate pastoral plans that have at their heart a bringing together of the reality and the Gospel that will lead to the growth of the Christian faith and its projection in our society."

Archbishop Padrón noted that "in our pastoral action we need to pay more attention to the guidelines and norms of the Plenary Council, giving priority to catechesis as a structure of initiation and maturation of the faith of the Christian community, especially of adults. And this general guideline of the Plenary Council call, as a first step, to establish in every diocese and parish a specific time for the first missionary proclamation or kerygma, which has as its aim the call to faith and conversion and, as the second step, to implement in every parish the catechesis for baptized adults who need to renew their faith, through itineraries inspired in the catechumenal process."

Over the next few days the bishops will continue reflecting on these topics, especially on the initiatives of the Year of Faith, the riches of the Second Vatican Council, the works for the New Evangelization, without neglecting the political and social picture of Venezuela.

A cordial aspect was lived on Monday , January 7, when the members of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference  received with applause and greeting the new auxiliary bishop of Maracaibo, Bishop ÁngelFrancisco Caraballo Fermin. His appointment was made public on November 29 of last year, when the Apostolic Nunciature in Venezuela made Pope Benedict XVI's decision known.

Concern over the Political Situation

At the close of yesterday's session, it was discovered that Venezuela's Supreme Court resolved that it is not necessary for President Hugo Chavez to be sworn in tomorrow for his new mandate, because he is a "re-elected" President.

"Despite the fact that on January 10 a new Constitutional period begins, a new taking of office is not necessary as regards President Hugo Chavez given his condition of re-elected President," said Luisa Estella Morales, president of the Supreme Court, in a public statement.

The Supreme Court stated that the present government will be able to continue to exercise its functions beyond January 10, until President Hugo Chavez can take the oath formally.

"The Executive Power, constituted by the President, Vice-President, Ministers and other organs and officials of the Administration will continue to exercise their functions based completely on the principle of administrative continuity," said the Supreme Court's president.

Moreover, the vice-president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, confirmed on Tuesday that the head of State would be unable to attend the ceremony to take office and added that he would do so later before the Supreme Court, in keeping with article 231 of the Constitution.

In addition the Venezuelan Parliament gave Chavez a "blank check" by granting him "all the time needed to attend to his illness and return to Venezuela," when the reason for his absence "has disappeared."

The reading of Chavez's absence was greeted with jeers by deputies of the Opposition, while deputies who support him shouted "Viva Chavez!"

Moreover, Diosdado Cabello responded to accusations that the Cuban government is influencing decisions on Chavez's succession. The president of the National Assembly said there is a "fraternity" with the Caribbean Island but that theories of influence are groundless.

Serious Risk of Instability

"It is necessary that the authorities inform clearly and truthfully on the state and evolution of the President's health, as it is a topic of public interest given the office he holds," said the Venezuelan Episcopate, in a communique signed by the archbishops and bishops of the country. "The report of a medical committee made up of well-known Venezuelan professionals would dispel uncertainties," added the communique.

The prelates stated that Chavez's health "has generated uneasiness in the whole of the Venezuelan population" and they expressed their solidarity with the President and his family in this difficult moment of illness.

In regard to the situation created by the President's absence from Thursday's investiture ceremony, the bishops appealed for respect of the Constitutional normative. "We appeal to all public powers and to the citizenry in general to respect scrupulously the Constitutional normative, as stability and peace depend on respect for the State of Law," the communique stated.

"An accommodating interpretation of the Constitution to achieve a political objective is morally unacceptable," they stressed.

In this connection, they said that "frank, open and respectful" dialogue, "that has as its objective total adherence to the Constitution and the defense of the sovereignty of Venezuela, must continue to be the way to surmount the many obstacles that affect" the citizenry's coexistence, and which could lead the country "to a more profound crisis."

The bishops took advantage of the opportunity to question "the lack of conditions of equity in the unfolding of the campaign" in the two electoral processes of last year, including the presidential process of October 7, which in their judgment poses "the need for revision and absolute impartiality of the electoral system."

In addition, they observed "with concern" that in the collection of laws, emphasis is placed on their "ideological character" and that concepts are introduced such as Socialism and Communal State not contemplated in the Constitutional text."

"The politico-territorial organization cannot be built on a restrictive ideology, because it would attempt against the concept of the plural State, <which is> not excluding and democratic, consecrated by the Constitution," they added.

Prayers and Masses for Chavez

Hugo Chavez's serious illness has caused a curious change in religious manifestations in the country. Although Chavez has always said he is a believer, he has attacked members of the Church, right and left, demonizing some high ecclesial offices, and now numerous Masses and prayers are being held for the President's health.

President Chavez has been in a hospital in Cuba since December 11 when he was operated again for cancer in the pelvic area, although there has been no official information on its nature. According to last Thursday's government report, the 58-year-old President is suffering from "respiratory insufficiency," after having had a "severe lung infection," following his fourth operation.

In fact, Venezuela has very competent medical professionals so that it seems a further grievance that Chavez goes repeatedly to the Caribbean Island to be operated on and cured upon the invitation of his friend, Fidel Castro.

Henrique Capriles, leader of the Venezuelan Opposition, exhorted the Supreme Court of Justice to give its decision as to the whether or not the taking of office could be postponed, something it has now done.

Capriles, governor of the state of Miranda and former presidential candidate of the Opposition, asked that the decision be made before January 10. According to Capriles, the Constitution is clear in stating that the present presidential period ends on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the leader of the Opposition also asked the heads of State of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia not to take part in the "game of a political party," in reference to the decision of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela that the present government continues functioning after January 10.

The Opposition bloc published a letter it sent the day before to the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, in which it described the country's political situation given Chavez's health problems. The letter also stated that if on January 10 the oath of office is not taken by the President elect, and the Constitutional dispositions regarding the temporal absence of the President are not activated, "a grave violation of the Constitutional order will have been consummated in Venezuela which will affect the essence of democracy."