Friday, May 14, 2021

Are they more Catholic in Venezuela?


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IN my last column, I tried to pay tribute to my departed friend and diva Armida Siguion Reyna, who passed on Monday at 88 after living a fruitful life in the service of others.

She was such a happy person and will be remembered for a very long time. She sang so beautifully at my wedding in Sanctuario de San Jose in Greenhills, 49 years ago, with the then-President and First Lady as sponsors, and Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ officiating. I thought I mentioned this last in my Wednesday column, but the word “officiating” was inadvertently omitted, giving the odd impression that the first Filipino Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus, one of our greatest Filipino historians, sang with Tita Midz from the altar. I thought I owe it to that kind and saintly soul to start this column with this clarification.

* * *

Lyndon LaRouche dies. From Virginia, USA, Helga Zepp-LaRouche, wife of the American activist Lyndon LaRouche, and founder of the Schiller Institute, a political activist in her own right, wrote to say that her beloved Lyn, founder of the LaRouche movement, and the Executive Intelligence Review, and tireless proponent of returning America to the policies of Alexander Hamilton and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, passed on February 12 at the age of 97. There are no details.

I have a longstanding invitation to visit LaRouche in his Virginia home, but never managed to do so. In Washington, New York and Manila, I met with his senior EIR colleague Mike Billington and corresponded with him every now and then whenever necessary. This enabled me to keep pace with LaRouche’s tireless advocacies, especially those on finance, space and energy. He passionately pursued the revival of the 1932 Glass-Steagal Act to bring back global economic stability. One of his unfulfilled wishes was to bring together Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in an unprecedented global summit.


I also got some invitations from Schiller Institute, which I never got to honor. But not long ago, I had a chance to listen to Helga Zepp-LaRouche at the Dialogue of Civilizations in island of Rhodes in Greece, where I was a plenary speaker. She gave an impressive speech, without notes.

The LaRouche Movement is represented in the Philippines by Antonio “Butch” Valdez, former undersecretary of education, who is a senatorial candidate in this election. Butch is one of the few candidates who have anything to say about national pride, national sovereignty and genuine independence. If I finally decide to vote, I may be asking you to consider voting for him. For now, I simply ask you to join me in praying for the eternal repose of Lyndon’s soul. Thank you very much.

* * *

The Catholics in Caracas
From Caracas, Venezuela I have received a bouquet of prayers and a plea for reciprocal prayers too. “We’ll pray for you, will you pray for us too?” The sender is a Catholic who believes our two countries are both in urgent need of healing, and that we, Catholic Christians, no offense to anybody else, are in the best position to propose the appropriate cure. Like Filipinos, Venezuelans like to turn to God in times of trouble, said the sender, and they have lately come into a lot of trouble. From 1999 to 2013, Hugo Chavez ran Venezuela as a populist strongman, getting reelected four times because of his “populist” appeal, and removing Venezuela from the orbit of liberal democracies.

Although Venezuela holds the world’s largest known oil reserves, in 2018, its hyperinflation rate soared to 1.37 million percent, percent, it also defaulted on its foreign debt payments, and its poverty level sank far below that of most of the heavily indebted poor countries. Since 2005, the US government has imposed punitive sanctions on the Venezuelan government, and selected companies and individuals, because of terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, anti-democratic actions, human rights violations, and corruption. Petroleos de Venezuela, SA, or PdVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, has itself been hit by sanctions.

These have frozen Venezuelan assets, restricted Venezuelan government’s access to the US debt and equity markets, barred the Venezuelan government from issuing and using digital currency, digital coin or token, and barred others from purchasing Venezuelan debt, including accounts receivable, and any debt owed to Venezuela pledged as collateral. Thus, a resource-rich country is now poor.

It began with Chavez
On March 5, 2013 Chavez, 58, died from cancer. Rumors persisted that he had died much earlier, but that his death had been kept secret since December. Nicolas Maduro, whom Chavez had earlier nominated as his successor, became the interim president, pending the presidential elections to be held within 30 days after the vacancy occurred. Maduro subsequently won the election that year and inherited Chavez’s troubled regime, amid severe shortages, hyperinflation and hordes of Venezuelans fleeing to other capitals.

On January 10 this year, Maduro won his second term in an election where opposition candidates were reportedly either jailed or barred from running. The Catholic bishops, for one, called the election illegitimate, and mounting public protests threatened to strip Maduro of his new mandate.

The de facto president
On January 23, Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, without an elaborate constitutional process, declared himself interim president. An instant street presence appeared to support Guiado’s de facto presidency, and the governments of the United States, Canada, the European Union, and some Latin American countries were quick to formally recognize it.

China, Russia and Turkey were among those which stuck it out with the Maduro government.

This conflict has prompted speculations that those Venezuelans who had left their country during the Chavez regime and the first years of Maduro’s rule could now come back as an “invasion force” similar to the Cuban exiles in Miami who invaded the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, but failed. Maduro has warned that such an attempt would result in something far worse than Vietnam.

Catholic reaction
Concerned that Venezuela could sink into serious political trouble, the country’s Catholic population has decided to intervene as Catholics. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Confederation of Religious Men and Women of Venezuela, and the National Council of the Laity on February 4 demanded that the state agencies call for “free and legitimate elections to retake the path to democracy, allow the entry of humanitarian aid into the country and stop the repression of citizens.”

In a statement reported by the Catholic News Agency, the group said, “Venezuelan Catholics facing ‘a painful injustice and suffering’ are in search of a ‘peaceful and transparent transition’ that will lead to a free and legitimate election to retake the path to democracy, restoring the rule of law, and fostering the reconstruction of the social fabric, economic productivity, morality in the country and reconciliation among all Venezuelans.”

It denounced the growing political repression, human rights violations, arbitrary and selective arrests as morally unacceptable, and called on the security forces to stop repressing the people and assume their true responsibility of protecting the population instead. Specifically, it called on the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Public Ombudsman’s Office to stop the detention of minors.

Since January 21, at least 40 have been killed and hundreds arrested in public protests, even as the economic conditions on the ground continued to deteriorate as a result of harmful government policies and sanctions. On February 10, a vast multitude of Catholics turned out at a public Eucharistic celebration in Caracas in support of the call for elections. Statements from the organizers claimed the Vatican has expressed support for the call for elections.

A model for Filipinos
Apparently, this is the Venezuelan Catholic initiative I was being asked to support with my prayers. I have no difficulty supporting anything that would allow the Venezuelans to choose their own president. But clearly the Venezuelan Catholics have done much better than their Filipino counterparts. They have shown greater clarity and courage in dealing with their own government. Filipino Catholics have not been as clear-minded about their rights and duties in dealing with the Duterte government. This seemed evident at the last plenary conference of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Manila last month.

In that conference, CBCP Vice President and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, D.D. was asked to draft the group’s pastoral statement, according to reports. Accordingly, the bishop prepared a candidly worded statement in which he said: “Since he assumed office, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a baptized Catholic raised in a Catholic family, has consistently hurled cruel words like sharp daggers that pierce into the soul of the Catholic Church. We have silently noted these instances with deep sorrow and prayed over them. From deep within, the body of Christ cries out, as he did on the way to Damascus, “…why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)

“Although he has openly expressed that he is ‘no longer a Catholic’ but ‘still a Christian’ or at least ‘a believer in God,’ or even a part-believer ‘in Islam,’ we are nevertheless baffled that a former member of the body of Christ could utter such vitriol against the faith his own parents and grandparents had devoutly embraced and handed down to him.”

The draft statement went on to repudiate the President for reviling the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the meaning of Sacred Scriptures, Christ’s redeeming death on the Cross, and for calling God “stupid,” the apostles as “imbeciles,” the saints and martyrs as “fools and drunkards.” Mocking the faith of the people who voted for him is the cruelest thing the President can do, the draft said. There is more.

Cleaning up the draft
But after the draft was submitted to the bishops for their approval, they cleaned it up of all sharp and “confrontational” phrases and statements. So instead of talking about the government’s execrable offenses against the Church, the polished draft tried to lighten the gravity of the government’s offenses and tried to balance them with the admitted sacramental failings of bishops and priests. Instead of ending the discomforting prolonged collective silence of the bishops, which the draft statement lamented, the polished draft reaffirmed the policy of silence, citing Pope Francis’ statement that in some instances, “the best response is silence and prayer.”

St. Francis of Assisi, whose name Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina took when he was elected pope, was a great apostle of silence. He communed with the crucified Christ in deep silence, for which the Lord rewarded him (and St. Pio later) with, among other things, the stigmata. But there is a dignified sacramental silence and there is a cowardly and undignified silence, unworthy of its name. And St. Francis himself says, “if necessary, use words.”

In the face of great state abuse it is necessary for the Church to speak out. This is what the Catholics of Venezuela have apparently decided to do. This is what the Filipino bishops, priests, religious and laity must now find the clarity of mind and the courage of heart to do.



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