03 October 2018
Ad Limina Visit

The difficult but compelling mission of the laity in the wounded heart of Venezuela

On 13 September, a large group of bishops from Venezuela came to our Dicastery as part of their ad limina visit. The bishops have depicted a country grappling with serious political, economic, and social difficulties.

With inflation rising sky-high, many families have become impoverished and are increasingly struggling to get the basic necessities such as water, medicines, food, and work. In this context, the number of cases of malnutrition, deaths due to lack of care, as well as abandonment of elderly people and children are growing, but, above all, misery is pushing many Venezuelans to leave their country in search of a better life. In this struggle for survival, the traditional values of the common good, civil coexistence, and the sacredness of human life are being eroded. Individualism is growing, families are disintegrating, many young people engage in violence, prostitution or end up in narcotics and organ trafficking.

Without losing heart, the pastors of the Church in Venezuela unceasingly denounce the social sins that make the largest number of victims among the weakest parts of the population: women, children, young people, the elderly. Even at the cost of attracting the ire of politicians, they side with their people, giving material support to those in need with the few resources available and cultivating hope in their souls. Their pastoral commitment in recent years have been guided mainly the conclusions of the Plenary Council that was held in the country from 2000 to 2006 with the aim of reviving evangelization. One of the final documents – a fruit of this ecclesial journey – which concerns the laity, has substantially contributed to giving new impetus to their apostolate, especially that of non-associated laity. The awareness of their role in the Church has become greater. The laypeople are eager to get more formation, and to support them in their desire to deepen the faith several institutes for the formation of the laity have been created. Even the difficult situation that has been tearing the country apart for decades has been grasped by the laity themselves as an opportunity to organize themselves into groups of mutual support, where it is often not the richest who willingly reach out to the poor but the poor who help other poor people.

The V Conference of the Latin American Bishops in 2007 represented another significant moment in the life of the Venezuelan Church. In 2009, on the basis of the document of Aparecida, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference launched the Great Continental Mission. Since then, much progress has been made on this road. Yet, today, the bishops do not hide the urgent need to return to investing in family pastoral ministry, a field that still lacks adequately prepared pastoral workers. The difficulties of families have increased. New challenges have emerged: easy divorce, emigration, secularization, and unprecedented cultural models. Now, in order to meet these challenges, the Venezuelan Church knows that it must first and foremost confide in the spouses themselves.

Taking up the suggestions of the Puebla Document (1979), which highlighted, among other things, the preferential option for the young, the Venezuelan Church, conscious of the great risks to which they are exposed, has for some time now been strengthening its youth ministry. In fact, the youth ministry is well organized at all levels. It has also benefited greatly from the experience of the World Youth Days, in which the young Venezuelans participate assiduously and in ever increasing numbers since the 1997 WYD Paris. Following the “WYD model,” the Bishops’ Conference prepares a pastoral plan every three years that culminates in the organization of the Venezuelan National Youth Day, which has already brought together as many as 13,000 young participants in a single event.