Luis Vildoso, project manager for the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Venezuela, shared the current situation in the country and in the Catholic Church — and how the Church is maintaining itself in the midst of the social and economic crisis.
The aid worker, who recently visited 11 jurisdictions in the central and western areas of the country, said that he “found a very lively Church, very united and joyful, despite the fact that it has to go uphill.”
“You can see that God is there, sustaining this community: He is their strength,” he stressed in a recent interview with ACN.
From a social work point of view, Vildoso pointed out that “there are many initiatives in education and health” and that beyond material aid, “Catholics also receive spiritual bread through different activities.”
“I was very moved to see the commitment of the laity to the Church. In the midst of want, they have shown generosity with their pastors, making vehicles and their experience available to them to organize pastoral initiatives,” he explained.
The ACN project manager lamented that in some places he visited, shepherds are needed for the flock.
“Many foreign priests, men and women religious, have had to leave the country because their residence permits have not been renewed,” he noted.
In addition, “some priests and bishops are worn out, because they don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel in the short term,” he said.
“That’s why it is necessary to help the clergy, contribute to their spiritual renewal, but above all do it in a preventive way and so as not to be late to solve the problems,” the ACN official said.
Vildoso noted that the “control exercised by the government over the population in general is evident, especially through the checkpoints, which are posts where there is always a policeman watching, for example, at gas stations.”
“Control also occurs in the media. Control of the population is in some way control over the Church,” he explained in a Catholic News Agency report.
“At times, the government has attacked the Church. After celebrating a Mass, a priest received a letter from the government a few days later that told him: ‘This [is your] homily!’ The Church is somehow cornered,” Vildoso lamented.
After his trip to Venezuela, Vildoso acknowledged that the country is very rich in energy resources, such as oil and gas, and that it has a very good infrastructure.
However, he said, at the same time it is undeniable that “the country lives in a situation of very serious poverty, where the macroeconomic numbers speak for themselves.”
“A person who works for the state, for example in health care or education, earns an average salary of $6-$12 a month and the cost per month for the family’s basic necessities is $200 for a family of five people,” he said.
In addition, “the industry in general is paralyzed or significantly reduced, such as the oil industry that is below the minimum level of production.”
Regarding how the crisis affects the Church, the ACN official said that it “urgently needs our support,” since the high rates of poverty are affecting “the support of the Church directly.”
“It continues to be a priority for us to take care of the clergy, also the women religious who do commendable work and all the pastoral workers. But at the same time, we are also very interested in promoting the formation of the laity, that there be personal encounters with God and initiatives that help us sustain that encounter,” he added.
Despite the economic and social crisis, Vildoso assured that “casinos, car sales businesses such as Ferrari, go-kart tracks, a new modern baseball stadium, and even the construction of private clinics have recently opened.”
“All of this in some way is reserved for those who are ‘plugged in,’ those with ties to the current regime,” he pointed out.
Vildoso said that the bishops think and believe that changes in the country will come with future generations.
“Therefore, they’ve placed an emphasis on supporting young people through creative pastoral initiatives to connect with them. Venezuela has 7 million people outside the country, which [often means] young professionals. Therefore the youth are receiving special attention to avoid emigration,” the ACN official explained.