Venezuela's Bishops Allowed to Visit Rome

Conference Dispels Rumors of Chávez Interference

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ROME, JUNE 2, 2009 ( Venezuela’s bishops are traveling to Rome this week for their five-yearly visit, dispelling rumors that President Hugo Chávez’s government refused to allow some of the bishops to leave the country.

Auxiliary Bishop Jesús González de Zárate Salas of Caracas, who is also the secretary for Venezuela’s episcopal conference, told ZENIT that the government had decided to not renew a diplomatic traveling document for 12 of the bishops, but that they had the option to renew their passports as any other citizen of Venezuela.

Due to Venezuela’s lengthy and slow passport renewal process, those bishops ran the risk of not being able to travel to Rome this week.

Bishop González de Zárate Salas noted, however, that the Ministry for External Affairs helped the prelates to obtain their passports in time, and that the last bishop will arrive in Rome on Wednesday.

While in Rome the bishops will celebrate Mass in the four major basilicas, hold meetings with the various councils and congregations of the Curia, meet with the institutions, religious communities, priests, religious and laity of Venezuela living in Rome, and greet Benedict XVI in a papal audience.

The bishops will take a special trip to visit the Farneta Abbey near Lucca, where two Venezuelans had lived for a time in the early 1900s.

Doctor and scientist José Gregorio Hernández (1864-1919) lived at the monastery for 10 months in 1908 in search of a religious vocation. Due to ill health he returned to Venezuela where he practiced medicine. He became known for giving free treatments and medicine to the poor.

Bishop Salvador Montes de Oca (1895-1944), lived at the Carthusian monastery from 1934 until his death in 1944. He was taken prisoner and shot by Nazi forces, alongside the entire community of monks. The abbey was targeted because it was known to have given refuge to those fleeing Nazi persecution.

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