Pope Francis sends message of encouragement to Venezuelan cardinal

Pope Francis arrives in St Peters Square for the general audience Sept 21 2016 Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square for the general audience Sept. 21 2016. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis sent a message this week to Cardinal Baltazar Porras Cardoza, as Venezuela suffers the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on top of a severe socio-economic crisis.

"May God continue to give you strength and parrhesia so that with a father's heart you know how to accompany and comfort His holy faithful people, tried by the suffering caused by the scourge of the pandemic, the arrogance of the powerful and the growing poverty that strangles them," Pope Francis wrote on Wednesday.

The pope sent the message on January 6, Cardinal Porras' "name day." He is named after King Balthazar, one of the three Magi whose visit to the Child Jesus the Church celebrates on the Feast of Epiphany.

In his letter, Francis assured the cardinal of his prayers for him and for his ministry as archbishop of Mérida and as apostolic administrator of Caracas, Santiago de Venezuela.

He wrote that the Feast of Epiphany is "the day of the manifestation of the humility of God who becomes light that defeats the darkness that covers the world."

The pope closed by imparting his apostolic blessing and entrusting Porras to the protection of the Holy Family and King Balthazar.

Porras is participating in the plenary session of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, taking place online this week. Topics of discussion include the country's economic situation and the Second National Pastoral Assembly, which was canceled in 2020 but will be held later this year instead.

The bishops are expected to release a pastoral exhortation at the close of their meeting on Jan. 11.

Under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, power outages, and hyperinflation. Some 4.5 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

Some 96% of households in Venezuela are living in poverty, according to studies.

Since March, Venezuela has had over 115,000 recorded cases of the coronavirus, and over 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

One Venezuelan bishop said last summer that the dire economic situation in Venezuela, combined with the effects of the pandemic lockdown in the spring, had led to a crisis more severe than the biblical plagues in Egypt.

"The plagues of Egypt are nothing compared to what we are suffering here," Bishop Polito Rodríguez Méndez of San Carlos told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in July 2020.

The bishop said the coronavirus pandemic has now exacerbated a situation that was already at a crisis point.

With a paralyzed economy and GDP now below zero, he told ACN, "those most affected are the poorest of the poor - they have nothing to eat, they have no chance of living a decent life."

Rodríguez also called for international support to aid the struggling nation.

"We don't want outside intervention, especially armed intervention, but we have to ask for international humanitarian and health care aid because if not, we have no other alternative: either COVID kills us or hunger kills us."

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