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Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Bishops from across Latin America condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages that have left thousands hungry.

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: "Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her." Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages  (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: “Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her.” Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

“We are worried and pained by the deaths, the violence, the lack of the most basic goods, the divisions, the violation of human rights,” said Auxiliary Juan Espinoza Jimenez of Morelia, Mexico, secretary general of the Latin America bishops’ council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

Bishop Espinoza spoke during CELAM’s assembly in San Salvador, which brought together Catholic representatives from 21 Latin American countries plus delegations from the United States and Canada. The meeting, which ended May 12 and was themed “A poor church for the poor,” dedicated special attention to the situation in Venezuela.

The conference appointed a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission will be headed by Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez of Cumana, Venezuela, president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference.

“The bishops, presidents and delegates of the episcopal conferences of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have placed our minds and hearts with our brothers and sisters in Venezuela,” the bishops said in a letter that was read at the meeting. “We want to express to all citizens, and especially those in the Catholic Church, our closeness, solidarity and support, at the same time that we transmit a voice of hope in Christ, way, truth and life.”

The South American country of 31 million has been besieged by a deep political crisis since President Nicolas Maduro moved to expand his power, including taking over the functions of the opposition-controlled congress and, more recently, pushing for the constitution to be reformed.

Weeks of large-scale street demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, leaving nearly 40 people dead and drawing international condemnation. The country has struggled with a deep economic recession and runaway inflation that has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. A survey by a Venezuelan university found about 75 percent of the population had lost an average of 19 pounds last year because of the lack of food.

Bishops Espinoza urged the church to respond to the crisis by providing supplies. “We call on the diocesan communities of Latin America and the Caribbean to initiate initiatives of charity with our Venezuelan brothers and to think about ways to make them effective, despite obstacles that may arise,” he said.

“The Catholic people of Latin America and the Caribbean know well that, in the most difficult moments of their history, we must turn to God with all pity to move forward,” the letter said, urging all churches to “pray for this brother and sister country for a prompt and definitive reconciliation and social peace.”

Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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Jesus is the hope of young people who are the wealth of Mexico, pope says

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Catholic News Service

MORELIA, Mexico —Jesus never sends anyone out as a hitman, dealing in death, but calls Christians to be his disciples and friends, Pope Francis told Mexico’s youth.

Young people cheer as Pope Francis leads a meets with them at the Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium in Morelia, Mexico, Feb. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Young people cheer as Pope Francis leads a meets with them at the Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium in Morelia, Mexico, Feb. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Today the Lord continues to call you, he continues to draw you to him, just as he did with the Indian, Juan Diego,” to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, he told tens of thousands of young people at Morelia’s Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium Feb. 16.

Dozens of young people carried flags representing every diocese of Mexico present in the packed stadium or watching on big screens set up in a field outside. The pope not only greeted those present in Morelia but also thousands of Mexican youths following the event live from Guadalajara.

Echoing his words to government authorities earlier in the week, the pope reminded the youths that they are the wealth of Mexico and of the church.

“A mountain can have rich minerals that will serve humanity’s progress; that is its wealth. But it only turns into wealth when the miners who take out the minerals work on it. You are the wealth, and you must be transformed into hope,” the pope said, in one of several departures from his prepared speech.

However, Pope Francis recognized the difficulties of recognizing one’s value when material wealth, fashion and prestige become symbols of one’s worth.

“The biggest threat is when a person feels that they must have money to buy everything, including the love of others. The biggest threat is to believe that by having a big car you will be happy,” he said

The pope said belief in Jesus is a sure source of hope and can help youths fight back against the influence of drug dealers “or others who do nothing but sow destruction and death.”

“It is Jesus Christ who refutes all attempts to render you useless or to be mere mercenaries of other people’s ambitions,” he said.

Jesus is the one word of hope that can help young people live fully and do their best for their friends, neighborhoods and communities, he said. While faith may not give them “the latest car model” or “pockets filled with money,” it brings the experience of being loved, embraced and accompanied, which “no one can take away.”

Departing yet again from his speech, the pope recalled a song often sung by mountain climbers.

“While they climb, they sing: ‘In the art of ascending, the victory isn’t in not falling, but in not remaining fallen,’” he said.

The young can be certain that Jesus always will stretch out a hand to help them up, he said. Sometimes he “sends you a brother or sister to speak to you and help you. Don’t hide your hand when you’ve fallen. Don’t tell him: ‘Don’t look at me because I’m all dirty, don’t look at me because I have no hope.’ Just reach out your hand and hold onto his.”

In turn, a young Christian must “stretch out your hand” to help others in Jesus’ name, particularly with “listening-therapy.”

“Let them speak, let them talk. And little by little, they’ll start stretching out their hand and you will help them in Jesus’ name. But if you go in one shot and start preaching, and hitting them over and over , you leave the poor guy worse than he was before,” he said.

Pope Francis urged young Mexicans to remember: “You are the wealth of this country, and when you doubt this, look to Jesus, who destroys all efforts to make you useless or mere instruments of other people’s ambitions.”

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Pope to visit poor communities in Mexico in February

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will visit some of the most marginalized communities in Mexico and seek to bring hope to a country deeply suffering from crime, corruption and inequality when he visits in February.

A covered makeshift bathroom is seen in late October in a low-income neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Ciudad Juarez is one of the  marginalized communities Pope Francis will visit in Mexico during his trip in February. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A covered makeshift bathroom is seen in late October in a low-income neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Ciudad Juarez is one of the marginalized communities Pope Francis will visit in Mexico during his trip in February. (CNS photo/Reuters)

The Vatican announced Dec. 12 details about the pope’s Feb. 12-17 trip to Mexico, during which he will stop in six cities, including two in the state of Chiapas and, across from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez, which just five years ago was considered the “murder capital of the world” as drug cartels disputed a trafficking corridor.

The pope said in November that he wanted to visit cities where St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI never went. But he said he will stop at the capital of Mexico City to pray at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “But if it wasn’t for Our Lady I wouldn’t” go there, he had told reporters.

The pope will fly out of and return to Mexico City each day after celebrating Mass at the basilica on the second day of his trip.

Over the following four days, he will visit a pediatric hospital in the capital as well as families and indigenous communities in the southernmost state of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, which gained worldwide attention for the 1990s Zapatista rebellion.

He will visit young people and religious in Morelia, celebrate Mass on the Mexican-U.S. border in Ciudad Juarez and visit its infamous Cereso state prison, where at least 20 people were killed during riots in 2009 triggered by rival gangs among the prisoners.

“We are certain that the presence of the Holy Father will confirm us in the faith, hope and charity and will help the church move ahead in its permanent mission,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a Dec. 12 statement. “It will encourage believers and nonbelievers and commit us to the construction of a just Mexico, with solidarity, reconciliation and peace,” the statement said.

Father Oscar Enriquez, parish priest and director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center in Ciudad Juarez, told Catholic News Service that Juarez is often seen as an example of overcoming extreme violence. “The pope always looks for the peripheries. Juarez is the periphery of Mexico and it’s a place migrants pass through.”

Father Patricio Madrigal, pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the Michoacan city of Nueva Italia said by visiting Morelia, the pope “wants to be closer to an area beaten down by violence. He wants to bring comfort and also closeness.”

The pope’s meeting with young people and religious in Morelia is important, Father Madrigal told CNS, as the church there works to keep kids out of the cartels and provide priests with support and “strengthen us in the faith and our work in attending to victims of violence.” Priests in the rugged Tierra Caliente region there had lent moral and spiritual support to vigilantes arming themselves to run off a drug cartel in 2013.

Pope Francis “wants to give young people a message of hope and that they stay away from the temptation of violence,” the priest said.

Here is the pope’s itinerary as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses. The places the pope will visit are on Central Time except Ciudad Juarez, which is on Mountain Time.

Friday, Feb. 12 (Rome, Mexico City)

— 12:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

— 7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) Arrival at “Benito Juarez” International Airport in Mexico City. Officials to greet pope.

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Mexico City)

— 9:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony at the National Palace. Courtesy visit with the president of the republic.

— 10:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.) Meeting with representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps. Speech by pope.

— 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.) Meeting with Mexico’s bishops in the city’s cathedral. Speech by pope.

— 5 p.m. (6 p.m.) Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Homily by pope.

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Mexico City, Ecatepec, Mexico City)

— 9:20 a.m. (10:20 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Ecatepec.

— 10:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m.) Mass in the area of the “study center” of Ecatepec. Homily by pope. Pope recites Angelus.

— 12:50 p.m. (1:50 p.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Mexico City.

— 1:10 p.m. (2:10 p.m.) Arrival in Mexico City.

— 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Visit to the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital of Mexico. Greeting by pope.

— 6 p.m. (7 p.m.) Meeting in the National Auditorium with representatives of culture. Speech by pope.

Monday, Feb. 15 (Mexico City, Tuxtla Gutierrez, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico City)

— 7:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.) Departure by plane for Tuxtla Gutierrez.

— 9:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m.) Transfer by helicopter to San Cristobal de Las Casas.

— 10:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.) Mass at the city’s sports center with the indigenous community from Chiapas. Homily by pope.

— 1 p.m. (2 p.m.) Lunch with representatives of the indigenous community and the papal entourage.

— 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) Visit to the cathedral of San Cristobal de Las Casas.

— 3:35 p.m. (4:35 p.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Tuxtla Gutierrez.

— 4:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m.) Meeting with families at the Victor Manuel Reyna Stadium at Tuxtla Gutierrez. Speech by pope.

— 6:10 p.m. (7:10 p.m.) Departure by plane for Mexico City.

— 8 p.m. (9 p.m.) Arrival at the Mexico City airport.

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Mexico City, Morelia, Mexico City)

— 7:50 a.m. (8:50 a.m.) Departure by airplane for Morelia.

— 10 a.m. (11 a.m.) Mass with priests, seminarians, religious men and women, and consecrated persons. Homily by pope.

— 3:15 p.m. (4:15 p.m.) Visit to the city’s cathedral.

— 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Meeting with young people at the Jose Maria Morelos Pavon Stadium. Speech by pope.

— 6:55 p.m. (7:55 p.m.) Departure by plane for Mexico City.

— 8 p.m. (9 p.m.) Arrival in Mexico City.

Wednesday, Feb. 17 (Mexico City, Ciudad Juarez)

— 8:35 a.m. (9:35 a.m.) Departure by plane for Ciudad Juarez.

— 10 a.m. (12 p.m.) Arrival at Abraham Gonzalez International Airport in Ciudad Juarez.

— 10:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.) Visit to Cereso prison. Speech by pope.

— 12 p.m. (2 p.m.) Meeting with workers and employers at the Colegio de Bachilleres of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Speech by pope.

— 4 p.m. (6 p.m.) Mass at the fairgrounds of Ciudad Juarez. Homily and greeting by pope.

— 7 p.m. (9 p.m.) Departure ceremony at the Ciudad Juarez International Airport.

— 7:15 p.m. (9:15 p.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.

Thursday, Feb. 18 (Rome)

— 2:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino Airport.

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Contributing to this story was David Agren in Mexico City.

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