ROME—This Holy Week, Christians in Egypt will have to do without most of the traditional Easter celebrations, as they’ve been cancelled in various parts of the country due to last weekend’s terrorist attacks that killed 45 people and left many wounded.
Egypt, however, is not the only place where Christians are reeling this week.
With no death toll, but with a government openly hostile to the Catholic Church, faithful in Venezuela also have reasons to fear turning out at centers of worship. And, if a mayor in Spain gets away with it, four churches, including a cathedral, may be celebrating their final Holy Week as the property of the Catholic Church.
All of which illustrates a simple truth: For many Christians around the world, even Holy Week provides no respite from the difficulties of life.
In Venezuela, a Mass for peace was violently interrupted
Animus against the Catholic Church from supporters of the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro continues to grow, evidenced by the fact that on Wednesday Cardinal Jorge Urosa of Caracas was physically assaulted at the end of Mass.
AFP reports that the prelate was beaten and had to leave the church with a police escort, but he was not the only one attacked by supporters of Maduro.
The last few weeks have been marked by heightened political tension in Venezuela, as the country’s embattled government has tried to assert an increasingly authoritarian level of control.
Earlier this month, the country’s Supreme Court decided to eliminate the National Assembly. In response, the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference released a statement saying that Catholics in the country cannot remain “passive, frightened, or hopeless.”
The bishops also suggested that the time may have come for both civil disobedience to the government of President Nicholas Maduro, and also peaceful protest.
Despite a later retraction of that order, in recent days there have been protests, with tens of thousands taking the streets across the country in protest against the government. Not all were peaceful, however: At least four people have been killed by the police in their attempts to disperse the crowds.
Despite the fact that Catholics represent 88 percent of the total population, the political divisions heightened by an economic and cultural crisis have led to several clashes, such as the one on Wednesday.
As the crisis has worsened, the Catholic Church has become steadily more outspoken against the Maduro regime, highlighting a spike in violent crime and black market operations due to the crippling economy.
This has led to backlash from supporters of the regime, who’ve attacked several bishops and priests, and interrupted Masses.
For instance, also on Wednesday, in the diocese of San Cristobal, churches were painted on the outside, with very clear threats: “Death to the priests.” They were signed “PSUV”, which is the socialist party of Venezuela, founded by late Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor.
In Spain, a mayor wants to expropriate four churches
The leftist mayor of a Spanish city is asking Pope Francis for his help: He wants to expropriate four churches, including a cathedral, and wants the pontiff to promote a “tranquil and respectful dialogue,” with a “spirit of understanding.”
The Cathedral of the Savior of Zaragoza has been a Catholic church since the 12 century. Before then, it was a mosque, but there are archaeological signs that show it might have been a Catholic church since the third century.
Yet according to Pedro Santisteve of the leftist Podemos party, the mayor of Zaragoza, located some 200 miles northeast of Madrid, the cathedral and three other churches are “jewels of the patrimony of our city,” and, as such, they should not belong to the Church.
In his letter to Francis, he does, however, recognize the obvious: They were built by the Church, and have been strictly used for Catholic worship.
According to Spanish paper ABC, the mayor also lets the pope know that his plan could go beyond the four churches, to include not only “houses of prayer, as we could imagine, but to all type of goods: Stores, homes for the priests in the [neighboring] towns, farms, roads, and squares.”
Santisteve believes that his claim over these churches is a matter of respect for “democracy.” Thus, in his letter to Francis, he asks for the pope’s cooperation to maintain the “framework of peace, respect, and trust that a democracy must have.”
Yet for the mayor, demanding the Church to hand over four houses of worship is not “expropriating nor confiscating” property, “let alone plundering the Church.”
It’s nothing more than an attempt to maintain “the common heritage of our history,” he said.
Santisteve promises the pope that taking the four churches from the diocese won’t lead to “questioning” their liturgical use nor the “sacredness they have for Catholic neighbors and visitors.”
The Cathedral of the Savior of Zaragoza is a World Heritage Site, and is one of two cathedrals in the city, the other being that of El Pilar.
The legal process Santisteve wants to apply is to declare null the diocesan registration of the four churches.
A lawyer for the diocese is claiming that not allowing the Church to register its property is discrimination, and that the city has to have proof of ownership over the houses of worship, instead of claiming them public buildings because the mayor “would like for them to belong to the public.”