Irish priests promise to stand by the people
Irish missionaries in beleaguered Venezuela have said they see fresh hope in large peaceful protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
Although the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart say the situation in the South American country is much worse now than even a year ago, they describe open support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó as “a miracle” and say they are determined to stand by their Venezuelan flocks.
“The people rose up, and the people are rising up all over the country,” Fr Vincent Screene, who has worked in Venezuela for over 50 years, told The Irish Catholic. “There were lots who were always suspicious of Chavez’ work and Maduro and they have come down from the hills and are supporting the opposition leader.”
Speaking exclusively to this newspaper, Fr Screene described the outpouring of support for 35-year-old Mr Guaidó, a hitherto almost unknown
figure who assumed leadership of the National Assembly last month, as miraculous.
“There’s anger and a lack of confidence among the people, so it’s miracle how over the last couple of weeks the people have come out,” he said, adding, “there’s a lot of hope at the moment”.
Fr Tom Jordan has likewise expressed amazement at the rise to prominence of Mr Guaidó as a focus for opposition to the Maduro regime.
“People really and truly are hungry and they’re dying for the want of medicine, so it’s sort of a godsend in a sense that this young man, Juan Guaidó, comes and appears. He’s only 35 but is a member of the assembly, and he has taken the side of the people.”
Maintaining that support for President Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chávez had depended on rigged votes and intimidation from members of the armed forces, Fr Jordan described President Maduro’s position as apparently secure due to backing from well-paid high-ranking army officers.
While holding out hope that support for Juan Guaidó will lead to a fresh government and an improvement in the country’s fortunes, the missionaries, who run two parishes and several parish outreach centres in Venezuela, will continue to care for the people as best they can.
“The poor are starving, and the middle classes have become impoverished. We’re trying to help where we can, just to help them keep the wolf from the door,” Fr Screene said. “Please God, I’ll be able to stay while my health holds up.”
Funding from the order in Europe is vital for this, Fr Jordan pointed out, while lamenting that shortages of flour make helping the people increasingly difficult.
“What we have tried to do is to buy bread, but that’s become virtually impossible because we cannot obtain flour – you just can’t buy it, though there’s a soup kitchen at least once a week on the weekend,” he said. “We keep that going – some bread and soup but not much more.”
At the same time, he continued, the missionaries are committed to standing by the ordinary people. “There’s a lot we can do, and I still have a lot of energy yet. You have to be with the people. The last thing to go down with the ship is the captain, so to speak. And the more they need us, the more we should be there.”