CARDINAL Jorge Urosa Sabino, Archbishop of Venezuela, who is in the Vatican to participate in the conclave to appoint a new pope, announced that he will celebrate in Rome:
A public Mass to pray for the eternal repose of President Chávez.
This, despite the fact that Chávez, who died this week aged 58, had a major falling out with the Church a few years back.
According to this report, in 2008, he called Cardinal Urosa “a troglodyte” and warned the Vatican that, as long as the cardinal remained as archbishop of Caracas:
I will remain very far away from the Church.
That same year, in one of his weekly, hours-long telecasts, Chávez said that the Pope:
Is no ambassador of Jesus on earth, because the true Jesus is in the people and in those of us who fight for justice and the liberation of the meek.
Chávez had once been close to the Church, but after his re-election in 2000, as he became more popular, he also became more eager to control different branches of power.
The Venezuelan bishops, worried that Chavez’ power-grabbing maneuvers could mean the end of South America’s longest democracy, started criticising some of his decisions.
Chávez’ reaction was brutal. He redirected all state funds traditionally sent to Church institutions that helped the poor and provided free education to newly created state-run “revolutionary” alternatives.
But in 2011 Chávez was diagnosed as having cancer. Although his ailment’s nature and gravity were never revealed, “a visibly bald and swollen Comandante returned in April from secretive cancer treatment in Cuba, requesting a Mass at the Venezuelan shrine of El Nazareno”.
In front of the shrine’s centuries-old crucifix, Chávez pleaded:
God don’t take me away now. I have much to do for this people. Give me your crown, Jesus; give me your crown since I am ready to bleed. Give me your cross, a hundred crosses, and I will carry them; but please give me life.
It was also known that Venezuela’s foreign office lobbied hard to get Ratzinger to privately and confidentially bless Chávez during this 2012 trip to Cuba. The meeting never happened.
That same year, during Holy Week, Chávez requested a Mass and anointing of the sick from Cardinal Urosa. During the Mass, Chávez read the first reading and said:
Deep inside, I am still the humble altar boy I once was.
He also praised the cardinal for his “pastoral kindness”.
A source from the Catholic Church in Venezuela told the National Catholic Register on the condition of anonymity that Chávez died:
As a practicing Catholic, assisted by the sacraments, which he constantly requested in the last period.
Th Cardinal’s immediate response to Chávez’s death was:
We are prayerful; we are ready for uncertain times.