Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 21, 2017 / 01:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Venezuela's bishops have organized a day of prayer and fasting amid ongoing riots throughout the country as opposition to President Nicolas Maduro hardens. They have called on the people to use the penitential practices July 21 to ask God “to bless the efforts of Venezuelans for freedom, justice and peace.”
With the help of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they voiced their hope in a July 13 statement which could be dubbed their manifesto on the current crisis that the effort would help so that “peace and fraternal coexistence may continue being built in the country.”
The day of prayer and fasting follows two similar initiatives, one of which took place Aug. 2, 2016, and the second May 21, 2017. The bishops urged all faithful to participate in the day, in order “to not let themselves be robbed of the hope that makes possible, with the help of God, what is impossible; to communicate hope and to be protagonists in this historic moment and in the future of our country.”
In order to draw attention and support for the event, those who are participating are promoting it on social media with the hashtag #OracionporVenezuela — in English #PrayerforVenezuela.
The day of prayer and fasting comes amid ongoing violent protests prompted by an opposition-organized July 16 referendum in which roughly 7.6 million Venezuelans voted in rejection of the national, socialist government. Sunday's unofficial referendum led to violence in several areas across the country, which so far has lead to the deaths of at least three people.
As voters were waiting to cast their ballot near the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Caracas' Catia area, shots rang out, leaving one man dead. When people fled into the parish for refuge, where Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino had been celebrating Mass, the doors were locked, barring the people and the cardinal from leaving.
According to reports, yesterday two more young men were killed in Valencia during a 24-hour strike that blocked businesses and public transport, bringing the death toll in anti-government protests to nearly 100 since April.
In addition to yesterday's 24-hour strike and the ongoing protests, a large opposition-backed demonstration is scheduled to take place July 22 in a show of support for parliament's election of new magistrates.
Frustration in Venezuela has been building for years due to poor economic policies, including strict price controls coupled with high inflation rates, which have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers, and medicines. Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.
A layperson living in Venezuela, who preferred to speak on terms of anonymity due to safety concerns, told CNA July 21 that the day of prayer and fasting is “a light” for the country amid the darkness of the current crisis. “It seems like a very banal, fragile and simple action in front of yesterday's strike and tomorrow's demonstration,” the source said. However, “it's not only political power or social change that can change the world, but also the awareness of our relationship with God.” “So a prayer and a fast is something very powerful which are often trivialized,” they said, and, quoting St. John Paul II, added that 'a prayer and the sacrifice of an unknown person in any unknown place can change the world.'”
The source said there has been an “exaggerated” response to the demonstrations on the part of the government, but that amid the violence, the day of prayer and fasting — which ranges from organized initiatives from parishes to personal commitments — is a chance to make “our true need” burn brighter.
It is reported that at least 300 people have been arrested for protesting the government in recent days. In terms of the international community, the source said politicians are doing what they can, but asked Catholics to unite with Venezuelans in prayer, “but also and above all in communion, which means to be interested and aware of what is happening here.”
What the bishops are asking for is justice and social peace, they said, asking for prayer that “it can be true justice and peace … This is not an alternative, it's part of life. Not only to make a protest, but to pray, to pray for peace.”