Venezuelan Cardinal Velasco García Dies at 74

Country’s Turmoil Took Its Toll on Caracas Archbishop

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CARACAS, Venezuela, JULY 7, 2003 ( Venezuela is in mourning for the death of Cardinal Ignacio Antonio Velasco García, archbishop of Caracas, who died Sunday after a long illness. He was 74.

Bishop José Luis Azuaje, undersecretary of the Venezuelan episcopal conference, said the cardinal died at 11:30 p.m., after fainting while celebrating Mass.

In a telegram addressed to Monsignor Pedro Nicolás Bermúdez, apostolic administrator of Caracas, John Paul II expressed his sympathy on the death of the cardinal, whom he described as a «zealous and abnegated pastor.»

Born in 1929, Ignacio Antonio Velasco García entered the Salesian Minor Seminary and studied in Turin, Italy, and in Rome, obtaining a licentiate in philosophy, pedagogy and theology. He was ordained a priest in Rome in 1955.

He carried out his priestly ministry in Venezuela, dedicated to the education of youth and seminarians, being director of several schools, and holding posts in the governance of the Salesian congregation in Venezuela and Latin America.

Appointed apostolic vicar of Puerto Ayacucho on Oct. 23, 1989, he was consecrated bishop by the Pope on Jan. 6, 1990, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Promoted to the metropolitan see of Caracas on May 27, 1995, he was made a cardinal on Feb. 21, 2001.

Venezuela’s current turmoil made the cardinal’s physical sufferings even harder. On several occasions, he was attacked verbally by President Hugo Chávez. Last Nov. 12 a grenade was thrown at the cardinal’s residence.

Just over a year ago, Cardinal Velasco endorsed the constitutional document of the transition government of entrepreneur Pedro Carmona, during a coup that lasted less than 48 hours. From then on, the cardinal’s relations with the Venezuelan government were further weakened.

With Cardinal Velasco’s death, the number of cardinals now stands at 166, including 109 electors who could vote in a conclave for a new pope.

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