LatAm: Pope’s church vandalized, prelates face Covid and showdown in Venezuela


ROME – Pope Francis’ former cathedral in Argentina was vandalized over the weekend, two Latin American cardinals are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and a bishop in Venezuela has clashed with military forces who blocked humanitarian aid from reaching a severely flooded region.

Never in shortage of news, here’s a round-up of the latest Catholic stories from Latin America.

Buenos Aires, the pope’s cathedral vandalized

An self-declared anarchist movement – with the help of leftist groups such as the Socialist Workers Movement (MST in Spanish) – vandalized the walls of historic buildings surrounding the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, including the Metropolitan Cathedral, once the home of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, today Pope Francis.

The demonstration that led to the damage took place on Friday, and it ended in riots and clashes with police.

It was organized under the slogan of “Good Police = Dead Police,” protesting what locals call “trigger-happy” security forces. Insults were issued against the state, the police, and also the church, as participants expressed their rejection and opposition to “to all kinds of authority”.

Graffiti left by the vandals in the Cathedral include phrases such as “the only church that illuminates is the one that burns”, “fire to the churches”, “Curas violines” (priests rapists), “when you read a little, you shoot a lot” and “I smoke the Bible, I don’t read it.”

The vandals also left graffiti on the Cabildo, from where Argentina declared its independence from Spain, with slogans such as “trigger-happy is genocide”, “the state aims, the police shoot” and “good police = dead police”.

The demonstration was organized in tandem with friends and relatives of victims who have suffered abuse of authority by the security forces.

The Respeto Religioso network, a civil association formed to contribute to the preservation of “peace and social friendship” under the aegis of religious respect, announced that it would file a criminal complaint for the offensive graffiti on the façade of the cathedral and regretted that no political authority has publicly condemned the attack.

“There was no prevention, action or reaction from national or city authorities, nor any subsequent statement condemning the outrage,” the association said. “It cannot be that no one has been arrested or detained. Photos and videos of the mobilization are circulating and are known. It is not difficult to identify the aggressors. The criminal behavior constitutes a criminal offense and a contravention.”

The organisation also urged the national government and the government of the City of Buenos Aires to take effective measures “to dissuade this [type of] action, which seems to be the order of the day in the demonstrations and claims of certain militant sectors.”

Two hospitalized cardinals

Both Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, 72, Archbishop of Managua in Nicaragua, and Cardinal Jorge Urosa, 78, Archbishop emeritus of Caracas, Nicaragua, are currently hospitalized fighting a COVID-19 infection, with Urosa being in the ICU.

Both prelates were hospitalized on Friday, and not much information has been released by their archdioceses.

In the case of Urosa, his hospitalization was confirmed by the Twitter account of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, saying that he was “stable.” However, on Monday morning Caracas time, Father Carlos Márquez, vicar general of the archdiocese, said that although Urosa is stable his condition is “delicate,” which is the reason he was moved to the ICU.

Brenes, who also serves as the president of the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference, had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to a family member who spoke with local media, the prelate “is improving” and had been hospitalized mostly as a precaution, so far with no need for oxygen treatment.

A statement released by the Archdiocese of Managua says the prelate asked faithful to “continue to pray for those who are suffering the effects of this pandemic and for the health personnel who unconditionally care for the sick.”

Urosa has said little to nothing regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, as he’s remained mostly silent since Pope Francis accepted his resignation in 2018, after he’d turned 75, the mandatory age for bishops to submit their resignations. Brenes, on the other hand, has become a strong voice of prevention, challenging the government of Daniel Ortega, which, when the pandemic began, argued the country would be “spared by God.”

In recent weeks, as COVID-19 cases increased, Brenes announced a series of measures to be carried out in parishes, including the temporary suspension of Masses with the presence of the faithful. At least 10 Nicaraguan priests are currently sick and a dozen have died since the pandemic began, eight of them in the past month.

Venezuelan bishops clash with police

Though overshadowed by his prayers for Afghanistan, Pope Francis on Sunday, at the end of his weekly Angelus, also prayed for the population of the Venezuelan state of Mérida, hit in recent days by flooding and landslides.

“I pray for the deceased and their family members and for those who are suffering due to this catastrophe,” Francis said. At least 20 people have died, and dozens remain missing. Thousands of homes were destroyed, leaving families without a home.

Almost at the same time, Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, archbishop of Merida, and his auxiliary, Luis Enrique Rojas, were confronted by officials of the Bolivarian National Guard on Sunday, who prevented the passage of humanitarian aid to the city of Tova, one of the most affected by the catastrophe.

“Enough of them mistreating the people. We don’t want them. They want to take aid away from the people. This cannot be,” Porras told a group of uniformed men who denied the entrance of humanitarian aid. The prelates were trying to provide material help minutes after concluding a Mass in the region with those affected by the flood.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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