AS Venezuela struggles under a state of emergency, Churches and Christians are trying to meet the needs of its suffering people.
Venezuela has been hit by rocketing inflation, likely to reach 720 per cent this year, huge shortages in food and other essentials, and crippling political conflict, with daily marches for and against the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
The Anglican diocese of Venezuela, part of the Episcopal Church in the United States, has been providing basic necessities for some people.
The diocesan treasurer, the Revd José Francisco Salazar, told the Episcopal News Service that parishes have clubbed together to form networks to procure food and medicines. If essentials cannot be got hold of in one city, a message saying what is needed can be passed on to another parish where the shortages might not be so great.
Mr Salazar said that, while the Church was trying to meet human needs, it was resolutely avoiding politics. “We have tried, as far as possible, not to get involved in political matters, but to help and respect the dignity of human beings,” he said.
“We prefer that people feel that their priests are with them: they are not the elite who live outside, but they live among them and suffer as they do.”
As Sundays are usually the only day of the week when there are no protests, strikes, or demonstrations, services at church can continue, and pastoral work such as counselling the victims of violence has also carried on despite the chaos.
Other Christians are taking to the streets, however. CBN News reported last week that church leaders in the capital, Caracas, organised a prayer walk through the city, asking God to intervene in their nation’s plight.
President Maduro says that the spiralling inflation, widespread shortages, and crumbling economy are the result of an “economic war” waged against Venezuela by the US and others.
Despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, in recent years the government has been so low on money and electricity that many state offices now open for just two half-days a week.
Emigration out of Venezuela has increased as many of those with enough funds to leave the country have fled the worsening situation.
Hispanic churches in Florida have been welcoming Venezuelan migrants; one pastor has estimated that about 400 families arrive in the state each month. “There is a real opportunity to be a gospel presence and to be Jesus to these people,” the Revd Gabriel Salguero, a church pastor and president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said.
“The Latino Evangelical church becomes a bridge to social networks and to employment,” he told CBN News, adding that churches often held job fairs for new arrivals.
The US government has even asked the Vatican to try to mediate a solution to Venezuela’s deepening crisis, the LA Times reported last week. Pope Francis sponsored the secret negotiations between the US and Cuba which helped restore relations between the two countries last year (News, 17 April).
The former papal nuncio in Venezuela, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, is now secretary of state at the Vatican, raising hopes that the country’s plight might inspire Pope Francis to intervene.