Catholics take to the streets to pray for peace in Bolivia

Archdiocese of Santa Cruz, Bolivia The vicar of the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz takes the Blessed Sacrament in procession through the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Oct. 30, 2022. | Photo credit: Archdiocese of Santa Cruz

A large number of residents of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, joined a procession through the streets with the Blessed Sacrament this past weekend, calling for dialogue and peace in the country. They also prayed the rosary and celebrated Masses.

During Sunday Mass, the archbishop of Santa Cruz, René Leigue, called for the setting aside of special interests and seeking peace and unity.

The Catholic community prayed for peace while in the Santa Cruz region an indefinite strike continued over the date for the population and housing census to be taken, and tension increased with an escalation of violence in the streets.

The protesters are demanding that the census, which was supposed to be carried out in 2022, be carried out next year, given the government’s attempt to reschedule it for 2024.

Taking the census is important because of the information it will provide for determining the distribution of economic resources and representation in Congress, which will depend on the number of inhabitants of each department (administrative district). Voting is compulsory in Bolivia, and so voter rolls will also be affected for the general elections of 2025.

The city of Santa Cruz is in turmoil. There were clashes, food shortages, and a lack of fuel to run the ambulances, affecting the transfer of wounded and medical personnel.

Given the situation, Santa Cruz Catholics, accompanied by the episcopal vicar of San Pedro, Father Tadeusz Gieniec, and three Dominican priests went out in procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of the city, praying for an end to the violence.

In addition, since the start of the strike, the faithful have prayed rosaries in parishes and chapels located near the blockade points. A Mass was also celebrated at the monument to Christ the Redeemer.

“The Blessed Sacrament was taken through the streets of Santa Cruz bringing a message of hope for better days,” the archdiocese posted on its website.

Archbishop: Seek the common good

At Mass on Sunday, Archbishop Leigue urged that in the face of the violence and threats that the country is experiencing, “we don’t descend into provocations, but as children of God, we seek peace and unity among Bolivians.”

The conflict over the census, he lamented, is being reduced to “defending individuals” and pointed out that apparently “for two people you have to make everyone suffer, millions, a city.”

Referring to the conflict, he considered that personal interests, group interests, and the interests of various sectors should be put aside, and “things should be seen as a whole, not fighting for a small group or for oneself.”

Today, he warned, “it seems that it’s no longer just seeing what an entire country is asking for” but that the interest is in “defending individuals” or a group, and not the benefit of all. “If it goes on like this, we’re not going to resolve the problem,” he warned.

Instead of individuals, groups, or sectors, the prelate called for defending “something in common that helps us, or that is good for all.”

In addition, in a recorded message Leigue expressed his deep concern about the increase in violence and reiterated the call for dialogue.

“As the Catholic Church, it is our mission to be at the side of our people, and as it corresponds to us by right and social commitment based on our faith, we make an impassioned call to the competent authorities to resolve this problem, leaving aside their personal, partisan, or special interests.”

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Likewise, he asked them “to demonstrate their ability for service, fulfilling their responsibility as authorities that is owed to the entire people.”

“I call on the people of Santa Cruz not to fall into the violent provocations that some are causing; we don’t want more suffering,” he said, urging peace for Bolivia, especially for Santa Cruz.

In the last few hours, the government accepted holding talks and made it a condition that the strike and the blockades cease in a commitment to “bring peace to Santa Cruz.” The talks could be set up Tuesday, presidential spokesman Jorge Richter announced.

“That footer where it says ‘we are committed to bringing peace to Santa Cruz,’” Richter clarified, “must belong to all the actors. The Inter-institutional Committee [must commit] to lift the strike and that we can make all the negotiations with social movements so that they can withdraw,” he added.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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