Church in Venezuela Is Not Competing with State, Pope Says

Encourages Bishops During «ad Limina» Visit

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 11, 2002 ( The Church in Venezuela wants to collaborate with, not compete against, public authorities in helping the nation, says John Paul II.

The Pope encouraged the Church´s works for Venezuela when he met the nation´s bishops today during their quinquennial «ad limina» visit to the Holy See.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, before the short-lived coup against him in April, had leveled harsh criticisms against the Church´s hierarchy.

Chávez had cut back on the public support of the Church´s program for integral development, and went so far as to accuse the Church of being a «cancer» in the «revolution» he was trying to promote.

The Venezuelan bishops informed the Holy Father about the poverty gripping their country, despite its status as a leading oil exporter.

«The face of the suffering Christ,» the Pope said, «becomes concrete in so many peasants, Indians, urban marginalized people, abandoned children, neglected elderly, mistreated women and unemployed youth.»

«I know that all this urgently appeals to your pastoral concern, because one cannot ignore one´s unfortunate neighbor, who so many times needs immediate attention,» the Holy Father added.

«The Church, both through the abnegated dedication of many persons as well as the constant action of so many institutions, has always given and continues to give witness of the divine mercy, with its generous and unconditional dedication to the neediest,» John Paul II continued.

Therefore, the Holy Father said, «without entering into competition with all that is the domain of the public authorities, the Church feels called at times to give a voice to those whom no one seems to be listening to.»

On other occasions, the Church will have to «look for ways of loyal collaboration in those initiatives that seek the integral good of people and which, therefore, also correspond to the very mission of the Church, as they do to the specific objective of social organizations.»

«The latter cannot be indifferent to, much less ignore, the considerable contribution of the Church to many aspects that belong to the common good,» the Pope stressed.

«I know very well that this facet of your ministry is not always easy, and that misunderstandings, attempts at distortion, or more or less partisan purposes are not lacking,» the Holy Father continued.

«However, this is not the domain in which the Church moves, which wishes to promote, precisely, an atmosphere of open and constructive dialogue, patient and impartial, among all those who have public responsibilities in their hands, so that the dignity and inalienable rights of the person will be appreciated,» John Paul II concluded.

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