ROME – Latin America is still one of the most Catholic regions of the globe, and there is no shortage of Church news from “south of the border.”
From bishops commenting on the political crises in places like Nicaragua and Venezuela to a beauty queen honoring the Virgin Mary in defiance of local authorities in Argentina, faith still has an important role to play in Central and South America.
After playing a key role in last year’s failed attempt of dialogue between the national government of Daniel Ortega and the opposition, the Catholic bishops are officially opting out of the new attempt to find a peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis.
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Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, president of the bishops’ conference, said on Sunday that the Church will not go back on a decision to stay on the sidelines.
“When we take decisions, we don’t do so in a crazy way, they’re reflected upon, shared,” Brenes told journalists after celebrating Mass.
He also said that he believes there are many highly qualified people in the government and the Alianza Civic, the main opposition, to dialogue with one another and listen to the demands of the people.
The people at the negotiating table, he said, “have an enormous responsibility, that includes a lot of work and which can be transcendental, and they can pull it off. We won’t be present physically, but we will be praying that they’re led by the spirit.”
Bishop Enrique Herrera of Jinotega said that the decision of the bishops is “definitive” and it’s based on the fact that they don’t see the efforts as either “safe” nor “serious,” and they don’t want to be caught in the middle.
However, the fact that the Church won’t be at the talks, he said, doesn’t mean the bishops will stop paying attention. On the contrary, he said the local churches are being asked to pray for the country, particularly during the Lenten season.
“There’s a big crisis. The fundamental crisis is political and also the suffering of many people, but there is also unemployment, people imprisoned [for political reasons], insecurity.”
The country has been without electricity since Thursday afternoon, the result of an energy crisis that, according to President Nicolas Maduro, was caused by five “electric, cybernetic and electromagnetic” attacks allegedly orchestrated by the United States.
Ever since, the situation has grown even more dire for the people of Venezuela, particularly those who are currently in the hospital.
According to the opposition, at least 21 patients have died in Caracas alone due to the lack of electricity. In addition, patients on kidney dialysis have been unable to receive treatment.
According to Archbishop Ulises Gutierrez of Ciudad Bolivar, the death toll could be as high as 200.
On Twitter, Gutierrez said that the national blackout is “a small proof of what the group of inept people in the regime are capable of doing.”
He also shared a picture after celebrating a “White Mass” for medical workers, saying that there was “nothing to celebrate, as in Venezuela the medical service has collapsed. Our doctors stand in fight for a new Venezuela.”
Bishop Tulio Ramirez, auxiliary of Caracas, tried to enter a local hospital together with the doctors who attended the Mass, but they were kept out by authorities guarding the medical facility.
Another Twitter user denounced the fact that hospitalized children were shouting from the windows, begging for food and for their parents to be allowed in for a visit.
On Monday, hundreds were arrested as they tried to enter grocery stores looking for food and personal hygiene products. Most stores, already experiencing shortages, are closed due to the lack of electricity.
Ten days after concluding their national assembly, the bishops of Panama released a statement saying that they renewed their “strong commitment” on protecting children.
The Archbishop of Panama, Jose Domingo Ulloa, had participated in the Vatican’s Feb. 21-24 meeting on preventing the clerical sexual abuse of minors. The bishops of Panama said they are taking on Pope Francis’s decision to deal with each and every case “with the utmost seriousness.”
“We will redouble our efforts to protect children, applying all the necessary preventive measures to eradicate the abuse of minors in the Church,” the bishops wrote. “We have already taken a firm step with the publication of the document ‘Protecting Our Treasure,’ which is the protocol for the handling of cases of abuse, approved by the Holy See, for the entire Catholic Church in Panama.”
They also wrote that they will work to achieve a balance that avoids both a “justicialism”, provoked by a sense of guilt due to past mistakes, and they will also fight against an attitude of “self-defensiveness” from the Church that leads to not confronting the “causes and consequences of these serious crimes.”
Hosts of this year’s World Youth Day, the bishops of Panama dedicated the first two points of their report to the need to keep the spirit of this itinerant event alive among the faithful in the country, and the need to reinforce youth ministries.
Investigated by civilian authorities for cover-up and recently sued for $500,000, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati said in an interview with local network TVN that he’s innocent, that every allegation of clerical sexual abuse that had been reported to the Archdiocese of Santiago since 2011, when he took over, has been investigated.
Despite having used every legal resource at his disposal to avoid testifying, Ezzati also said that he’s ready to do so whenever he’s asked.
“What I can say, with a lot of transparency and serenity, is that, without a doubt, we could have made some mistakes, I’m not infallible,” he said adding, however, that every case has been investigated.
Ezzati defended what he’s done so far, saying that one of the tasks he had to do when he was appointed to Santiago was the “very painful, very shameful, very humiliating, handling the cases [of abuse] that have been reported.”
Asked about the fact that there’s a proposal in the Chilean congress to remove his citizenship – he was born in Italy – Ezzati said that he’s “terribly hurt, it’s unfair.”
Every year, at the end of February and beginning of March, the northern state of Mendoza, known among wine lovers for its Malbec and many wineries, celebrates the Vendimia, named in 2011 by National Geographic as the second most important harvest festival in the world, right after Thanksgiving.
The closing celebration of this year’s event took place on Sunday.
The last day of celebration includes a parade that has historically been headed by an image of the Virgin Mary, carried by the Federación Gaucha, or local association of gauchos, the cowboy-style land workers in the deeply Catholic region. Yet this year, without any warning and in an attempt to make the celebration “more inclusive,” Governor Diego Gareca decided to change the order of the parade for the first time since 1939.
Walter Riesco, president of the federation, told a local radio that he was “saddened and shamed” by the governor’s decision, saying the official decided that the “gay king, the chariots, the green handkerchiefs” came first, rather than “our spiritual Mother, patroness of the vineyards.”
The green handkerchiefs are a reference to a pro-abortion symbol that became viral last year, when the Argentine congress debated a failed attempt to legalize abortion in the country.
“It’s a mutilation of our culture,” Riesco said. “I cannot understand how diversity is more important than our flag. They’re turning us into a colony, and regrettably, we know who will be in charge.”
Yet Luz Martina Mercol, 19, crowned vice-queen of the harvest festival responded by reciting the prayer “Blessed Be Your Purity” when she was crowned, much to the visible shock of the organizers, which was captured on a video that has since gone viral in the country.