Venezuela is a de facto Catholic nation. About 70 percent of the 27 million Venezuelans self-identify as such.
Today, Venezuelans struggle tremendously. The church in this country suffers. Current levels of instability endanger the well-being of an entire society. This is aggravated by poorly crafted policies from a regime that practically failed to provide conditions for all people to live with dignity.
The country seems at the brink of a civil war. Instances of regular violence, repression and violation of human rights are common. Extreme poverty is rampant. Hunger is a reality.
In a Feb. 7, 2019, statement, the Catholic bishops of the United States highlighted the gravity of the situation: “The humanitarian situation is dire. Severe malnutrition and death from treatable illnesses afflict a growing number of Venezuelans.”
Millions of Venezuelans cannot acquire products to meet the most basic needs in life. Access to humanitarian aid is often curtailed by political maneuvers that end up impacting negatively the most vulnerable.
The Catholic bishops of Venezuela have spoken prophetically about the realities that undermine the common good and threaten the human dignity of their fellow Venezuelans. For years, they have embodied an overtly political model of pastoral accompaniment that does not hesitate to denounce injustices.
The Conference of Venezuelan Catholic Bishops disseminates many of its statements via Facebook (See Conferencia Episcopal Venezolana).
In a Lenten message released on April 2, 2019, for instance, the Venezuelan bishops artfully weaved citations from Catholic social doctrine and references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
They unapologetically named specific crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Venezuelan government. In doing so, and faithful to the Gospel, they take major risks.
The bishops called the Venezuelan armed forces to task, summoning them to “feel once again part of a people they vowed to defend and serve, acting according to their own conscience.” Statements like this echo St. Oscar Romero’s evangelical courage and prophetic voice at a time of struggle.
When I was a child, I remember people from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and other neighboring countries flocking to Venezuela, searching for better opportunities. Only memories are left of those years when Venezuela provided hope to impoverished immigrants and their families.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have left their country in recent years. Most are going to bordering nations as refugees or simply as immigrants. Unfortunately, they are not always received with open arms.
During the past three years, Venezuelans have been the largest group seeking asylum in the United States. Our country’s immigration and refugee policies, however, have not been that helpful. Just last year, less than 30,000 visas for Venezuelans were approved. We deport more Venezuelans than those we embrace as refugees.
In the past 50 years, hundreds of thousands of Latin American Catholics have arrived in the United States after experiencing similar circumstances. Our Catholic faith communities and many of our leaders have excelled in welcoming Christ in these sisters and brothers.
We need to do it again as more Venezuelans make the U.S. their home and our parishes their places of worship. In the meantime, Catholics in the U.S. have the responsibility to stand in solidarity with Venezuelan Catholics.
How? Support Catholic efforts in Venezuela, especially those that seek to address injustice and provide humanitarian aid. Advocate for less restrictive refugee and migration policies. Integrate Venezuelan Catholics in our communities. Support or call for U.S. policies committed to advancing the common good, not merely political ideology or economic interests.
Last, let us hold Venezuela in our prayers. This is a perfect time to be united in prayer, as one church, holding those who suffer in our hearts.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.