VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II and some of his closest aides expressed their concern today to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez about the Church in that country, and advocated cooperation between the civil and religious authorities.
The Venezuelan leader arrived in the Vatican accompanied by a small entourage, a Vatican press statement stated. The president had a private meeting with the Pope first, and then with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute for General Affairs of the State Secretariat.
Relations between Chávez and the Church in Venezuela have been complicated. Chávez, a military man, is a staunch ally of Cuba´s Fidel Castro.
Chávez, 55, has tried to concentrate power around himself since he was elected in 1998. He has been increasingly suspicious of the Church´s educational and charitable activity, which he regards as competition.
On numerous occasions he has referred to Venezuelan bishops in harsh terms. He has also said the Church in Venezuela was an accomplice to corruption over the last 40 years, due to its silence. The episcopal conference has produced documents, issued over the past decades, refuting his statements.
Today the Pontiff and his aides expressed to Chávez “the Holy See´s expectations on the life of the Church in Venezuela and, in particular, on the laws in matters of education and worship, as well as on cooperation between religious and civil authorities, including in the social field, for the good of the Venezuelan people,” the Vatican press statement reported.
During the discussions, there was “an exchange of opinions on the present international situation, on the common commitment to reject the scourge of terrorism, and on the need for cooperation among peoples,” said the statement signed by papal spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls.