AMERICA/VENEZUELA - Council for the Laity decries violence in light of upcoming referendum and calls for a National Day of Prayer for Peace on February 11

Caracas (Agenzia Fides) – The National Council for Laity in Venezuela issued a statement on February 6 denouncing the “situation of growing conflict in the country, manifest in the widespread violence, not only against people's lives, but also against religious values and institutions,” and called for a Day of Prayer for Peace this Wednesday.
Due to the heavy controversy that has been unleashed in light of the February 15th referendum for the limitless re-election of the President and the other Government posts, the climate is tense. Groups protesting the Government in recent weeks have attacked religious and political headquarters, including tear-gas attacks on the Apostolic Nunciature, the profanation of the Synagogue in Caracas, and this weekend, a Catholic parish in the capital city.
“As Venezuelan Catholics” – the statement says – we reject the despise of human life, “treating it as though it had no value whatsoever,” in murder, kidnappings, etc. We reject the violent speeches, from either side, which are full of hate that leads to division among Venezuelans.”
They also reject the attacks on the Apostolic Nunciature, considering them “not only an attack on the Embassy, but above all, a direct offense to the Holy Father and all Catholics.” They also showed their dislike of the “constant offenses and threats against the Bishops' Conference and other representatives of the Catholic Church” and the “profanation of the Tiferet Synagogue in Caracas, and all the recent attacks on the Jewish community, with anti-semitic attitudes that were unknown to Venezuela until now.”
After articulating that “religion is an essential part of the culture of nations,” they mentioned that “the State has the duty of respecting religious freedom, which is the fundamental right recognized not only in our Constitution but also in the international code of human rights.” “Violent acts do not correspond to the Venezuelan people, who are by nature peaceful, tolerant, and welcoming,” the text said.
The National Council for Laity also expressed its hope to “build a peaceful future based on human, civil, and religious values that form the deepest nucleus of our national identity,” which will only be reached through a conversion of heart, reconciliation, and pardon.
Before this situation of violence that the country is experiencing, they invite Catholics, as well as members of other religions, to join in a National Day of Prayer for Peace in Venezuela, on Wednesday, February 11, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas, denounced the vandalism that damaged the Church of “San Jose” in Chacao, where perpetrators burned the front door and one of the side doors. In light of this event, he asked the nation's Catholics to “defend our churches and our faith.”
He also pointed out the importance of Catholics working together: “Let us work to make our churches respected and that violence may not return again.”
The Cardinal also revealed his hope that the electoral campaign prior to the referendum on February 15 will take place in peace and that this peace may spread throughout the entire national territory and its inhabitants. He also reminded everyone that they should “go to vote with a great freedom of conscience and security,” as it is “a very transcendental moment in the life of the nation.” (RG) (Agenzia Fides 10/2/2009)

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