“To go forward with our pastoral work, with the accompaniment of the people in these difficult moments and, of course, to help to pursue coexistence and peace,” were the guidelines that Pope Francis gave the members of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, during the private audience they attended this Thursday in the Vatican.
ZENIT had the opportunity to speak with Cardinal Jorge Urosa, who explained several particulars of this dramatic situation, which we share with our readers.
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ZENIT: Your Eminence, what direction did the Pope give you? What did he recommend?
Cardinal Urosa: The Holy Father repeated what he said to us, in a very lovely letter that he sent the Venezuelan Bishops on May 5. He encouraged us to go forward with our pastoral work, with the accompaniment of the people in these difficult moments and, of course, to help to seek coexistence and peace. Those are the fundamental lines.
ZENIT: In the dialogue that the government engaged in with the opposition and with the mediation of the Church, there was talk of elections, devolution of powers to the National Assembly and release of political prisoners. What happened?
Cardinal Urosa: Agreements were reached on October 30-31 of last year, but the government has not complied with them and that’s the reason the people are protesting and rebelling.
ZENIT: All right, the government hasn’t complied with them but, in those agreements, is there something that the opposition hasn’t complied with?
Cardinal Urosa: They had not asked for anything important because the important things are precisely the ones the government had to do.
ZENIT: A few days ago the Pope said to a Venezuelan politician: ”I am the Pope of everyone.” We know, however, that everyone wants to say “he is mine.”
Cardinal Urosa: The Holy Father is the Pope of everyone, and no one can claim that he favors a political group. The Pope favors the peace and coexistence of the Venezuelan people and he is extremely worried, as he manifested in his words on April 30; he is worried about the great quantity of dead and wounded, which the government’s repression has caused.
ZENIT: But this crisis has been in the making for a long time. What has changed in the scene?
Cardinal Urosa: Yes, but it was aggravated after the government removed the constitutional faculties of the National Assembly, elected in December of 2015, to install a rather dictatorial, totalitarian, Marxist, Communist regime, which the people don’t accept. And this unleashed, some two months ago, a popular rebellion, which was brutally repressed – I would even say criminally [repressed], because they have already killed 70 people.
With the highest inflation in the world, salaries don’t cover people’s needs; food is lacking, there are some who are dying for lack of medicines. And it is necessary to resolve the problem of hunger.
ZENIT: Are there political prisoners in Venezuela?
Cardinal Urosa: There were about a hundred but now there are many more because the government took many protesters to jail.
ZENIT: Is there something concrete that the Church is already doing to help the Venezuelan people, in addition to pastoral work?
Cardinal Urosa: In the last months we have started a program of common [cooking] pots, which is giving some relief to the hunger and anguish of the people.
ZENIT: And as regards the humanitarian aid of Caritas and NGOs?
Cardinal Urosa: Sadly, the Government does not facilitate the lines of aid to solve the food and medication problems that Venezuela is suffering.
ZENIT: There are those in Venezuela who say that the Pope is good and the bishops are bad . . .
Cardinal Urosa: There are those who say it . . . We are very happy with the affection that the Holy Father has shown us. We have expressed to him our union and communion. And we are happy with the result of this meeting we had.