DAILY CATHOLIC THURSDAY September 23, 1999 vol. 10, no. 181
NEWS & VIEWS
CHURCH SAVES DEMOCRACY IN VENEZUELA
Disclosures by Secretary of Episcopal Conference
CARACAS, SEP 21 (ZENIT).- It was nightfall on Thursday, August 26. Bishop Jose Sanchez heard on the television news that the Congressional members and participants of the National Constituent Assembly were looking privately for a solution to the confrontation that required the convocation of Parliament in extraordinary session. "They will not decide a thing," the secretary general of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference thought to himself. He called several bishops and told them the Church should intervene. He went directly to the Legislative Palace, arriving at 9:15 p.m., not knowing where to park. "I arrived trusting in God, and said to Him that if what I was doing was for the good of Venezuela, that doors might open to me."
Leaving his car, the Bishop asked a member of the National Guard to take him to the room where the parliamentarians and members of the Constituent Assembly were meeting. "Do not tell them I am a priest, they might misunderstand; tell them I am Bishop Sanchez," he said to the guard. "And so I joined them, and suggested they sit at a table to talk, ... the best place we had was the headquarters of the Episcopal Conference."
Bishop Sanchez said in an interview with the newspaper "El Nacional," that at that moment he realized that as long as the Assembly was determined to declare itself authentic and Congress was determined to deny this, there would be no understanding, "and that could generate much violence (...) the situation could become enormously complicated."
Today, almost one month after these events, the bishop explains how men of God were able to calm the spirits of the two powers: the Assembly and the Congress, "which held very narrow, radical positions, because they were defending principles on which they did not want to cede nor will cede."
Bishop Sanchez regards the Constitutional process as very positive for the country, because he feels the people are participating in the changes. "We have always asked the people to participate, and at this moment we see that several articles of the new Constitution are complete, I think there are 16. There are also hundreds of proposals from ordinary citizens, the Church and the (political) parties on other specific issues."
The Venezuelan Bishops believe that "there is great expectation in the country regarding what the Constitutional (Assembly) could decide, because the Venezuelan people cannot be let down. It would be very unfortunate if Venezuelans felt they were not understood by the Constitutional (Assembly). This is my message to the members Assembly; they must make every possible effort to understand their Venezuelan (countrymen) who have put their confidence in them. We do not want to feel betrayed by any resolution of the Constituent (Assembly)."
If the Constitution does not satisfy Venezuelans, the Bishop foresees "all kinds of danger. The Venezuelan people desire much justice, work and peace."
Serve the People
"What I would suggest to all who govern, to anyone, is that they must listen to the people. Because all men in government run the risk of surrounding themselves with a small group, and this small group often gives them erroneous information. I believe that, up until now, President Chavez has listened a great deal to the people. You can see this every time he speaks; I would advise him to continue with this attitude that will enable him to take measures and to know if the needs of the people are being met. For example, right now, people are anxious for more sources of employment; they want health (services) and better education," Bishop Sanchez said.
In regard to relations between the ecclesiastical institution and the government of President Chavez, the secretary of the Episcopal Conference emphasized that a climate of ... discussion has developed. He admits there have been difficulties, but points out that the government has decided to help and collaborate with the programs developed by the clergy. "They have said that they see great transparency in the way the Church manages the funds given by the State."
Proposals to Constitutional Assembly
The Venezuelan Episcopal Conference has a commission that is closely following the Constitutional process. The Church has prepared a number of proposals to be included in the new Constitution. Bishop Sanchez stressed the need for "religious liberty in Venezuela. This means, in the first place, respect for the conscience of every individual, but also for each one of the religions."
The Bishops also believe that the Constitution must include absolute respect
for life, "from the moment of conception until death, that is, we are
opposed to abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia." Finally, the Bishops
request that the Church be given the possibility to participate, along with
the whole of society, in the education of the Venezuelan people.
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.
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