Latin American bishops appeal for aid for food-short Venezuela

IMAGE: CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA

By Ezra Fieser

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) —
Bishops from across Latin America condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela
and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American
country amid food shortages that have left thousands hungry.

“We are worried and pained
by the deaths, the violence, the lack of the most basic goods, the divisions,
the violation of human rights,” said Auxiliary Juan Espinoza Jimenez of Morelia, Mexico, secretary general of the Latin
America bishops’ council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

Bishop Espinoza spoke during CELAM’s assembly in San
Salvador, which brought together Catholic representatives from 21 Latin
American countries plus delegations from the United States and Canada. The
meeting, which ended May 12 and was themed “A poor church for the poor,”
dedicated special attention to the situation in Venezuela.

The conference appointed a
commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission will be headed
by Archbishop Diego Padron
Sanchez of Cumana, Venezuela, president of the Venezuelan bishops’

“The bishops, presidents
and delegates of the episcopal conferences of the countries of Latin America
and the Caribbean have placed our minds and hearts with our brothers and
sisters in Venezuela,” the bishops said in a letter that was read at the
meeting. “We want to express to all citizens, and especially those in the
Catholic Church, our closeness, solidarity and support, at the same time that
we transmit a voice of hope in Christ, way, truth and life.”

The South American country of 31
million has been besieged by a deep political crisis since President Nicolas Maduro
moved to expand his power, including taking over the functions of the
opposition-controlled congress and, more recently, pushing for the constitution
to be reformed.

Weeks of large-scale street
demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, leaving nearly 40
people dead and drawing international condemnation. The country has struggled
with a deep economic recession and runaway inflation that has caused shortages
of food and medical supplies. A survey by a Venezuelan university found about 75
percent of the population had lost an average of 19 pounds last year because of
the lack of food.

Bishops Espinoza urged the
church to respond to the crisis by providing supplies. “We call on the diocesan
communities of Latin America and the Caribbean to initiate initiatives of
charity with our Venezuelan brothers and to think about ways to make them
effective, despite obstacles that may arise,” he said.

“The Catholic people of
Latin America and the Caribbean know well that, in the most difficult moments
of their history, we must turn to God with all pity to move forward,” the
letter said, urging all churches to “pray for this brother and sister country
for a prompt and definitive reconciliation and social peace.”

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