Video: Protesters and pilgrims together in Rio

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. discusses the importance of World Youth Day for young Brazilians in the context of the recent political demonstrations.

Last-minute preparations for pope’s visit at several sites

Backstage, literally, at Campo Fidei. (CNS/Cindy Wooden)

Backstage, literally, at Campo Fidei. (CNS/Cindy Wooden)

RIO DE JANEIRO — For media traveling with the resting Pope Francis, today was site visit day.

Despite sometimes heavy rain, hundreds of workers were busy putting the almost-final touches on facilities at Guaratiba, re-baptized Campo Fidei. The field is where the pope’s vigil with young people will be held Saturday night and where he’ll celebrate Mass with them Sunday morning.

Owners of a tiny shop in Varginha, the favela the pope will visit Thursday, are selling papal visit T-shirts and at least one enterprising resident — Carlos, according to the sign in his window — is renting out rooms to people who want to be a resident-for-a-day.tshirts

Up at the St. Francis of Assisi Hospital, the Franciscan friars and sisters were out in the pouring rain raking up leaves, sweeping sidewalks and decorating the chapel in preparation for the pope’s visit tomorrow afternoon.

Here are few more details:

– Duda Magalhaes, CEO of Dream Factory, the event planning company overseeing work at Campo Fidei, said the work is right on schedule. He said the rain isn’t a problem because it’s winter in Rio and everyone knew there was a good chance it would rain. But, like everyone else, he is hoping forecasters are right and the rain ends Thursday or Friday.

The field is 32 miles from the center of Rio. Magalhaes said every site considered was a good distance from town because they needed a big open space. Copacabana beach is being used for the WYD opening tonight, for the welcoming ceremony with the pope Thursday and for the Via Crucis Friday. But, he said, you can’t have hundreds of thousands of young people sleeping on a beach in the middle of town, so that ruled out using the beach for the vigil. Magalhaes is planning to accommodate up to 900,000 overnight campers at Campo Fidei, providing them with restrooms, water and food under the watchful eyes of the Brazilian military … in addition to the group chaperones.

He said the field easily can handle 1.5 million people for Mass; while some have spoken of a possibility of 2 million or more showing up, Magalhaes said studying other papal Masses seems to indicate that when so many people already will have seen the pope at events in Rio, a super huge attendance is unlikely. Plus, there’s the fact that anyone wanting to go will have to walk at least 5 miles from the bus drop off point.

Father Marcio

Father Marcio

– Father Marcio Oliveira de Queiroz, pastor of the parish that includes the Church of St. Jerome in Varginha, said the pope’s visit is “one of the most important moments this community has ever experienced. It’s almost unthinkable that the pope would come here.”

A year ago, the favela underwent what the government calls “pacification,” a major effort that begins with a massive police operation to rid the shantytown of drugs, drug lords and weapons, and includes bringing running water and electricity to all the homes.

Father Oliveira de Queiroz has been pastor for five years. He said his parishioners used to have to think twice before leaving home, even to go to Mass. And they were never sure they would get back home safely either. Asked what things were like, he told us to picture a big open air fruit and vegetable market, “then change the produce to guns and drugs.”

Brothers and sisters at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital.

Brothers and sisters at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital.

– Franciscan Brother Francisco Belotti is the director of the St. Francis Assisi Hospital complex, which includes departments like cardiology found at any major hospital in any big city, but it also includes a very large facility to assist recovering drug addicts, which will be the focus of the pope’s visit. “Coming here, Pope Francis is telling them that they have value, that they are loved,” he said. The visit is another sign that “the pope chose Francis not just as a name, but as a plan,” a signal of how he intended to focus on the poor through his ministry.

Video: WYD pilgrims visit Marian shrine

A look at the site of Pope Francis’ first public liturgy for WYD 2013, the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, the world’s largest Marian shrine.

Video: Brazil protesters await pope

Professor Rachel Nigro of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro discusses the recent wave of protests across Brazil and how the pope’s visit to the country might impact national politics.

Video: Why WYD? Americans in Rio explain.

U.S. pilgrims in Rio discuss their expectations for World Youth Day 2013.

Video: Homes opened for World Youth Day

Brazilian Catholics renew their faith when they open their homes to volunteers helping to run World Youth Day 2013.

Video: Rio hospital ready for pope

A look at the Franciscan hospital Pope Francis will visit during his trip to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day.

 

Video: Brazilians eager for pope’s visit

Catholics in Rio de Janeiro await Pope Francis’s visit for World Youth Day this month and examine the legacy of Blessed John Paul II’s visit to a slum.

Venezuelan president changed nation, had rocky relations with bishops

By Ezra Fieser

Catholic News Service

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) — Hugo Chavez, a socialist president who transformed Venezuela while acting as chief protagonist in what was one of the worst Catholic Church-government relationships in Latin America, died March 5. He was 58.

Chavez died of complications from a respiratory infection nearly two years and four surgeries after his cancer diagnosis was made public. He flew to Cuba for his fourth surgery in early December and developed post-surgical complications, including bleeding and a lung infection, doctors said.

Images of  Venezuelan President Hug Chavez held up at a recent rally in Caracas. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Images of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held up at a recent rally in Caracas. (CNS photo/Reuters)

On April 5, 2012, Holy Thursday, shortly before his third surgery for cancer, Chavez attended a Catholic Mass in Barinas, the state in western Venezuela where he was born and where his brother, Adan Chavez Frias, is now governor. Wearing a rosary and dressed in a blue and white tracksuit, Chavez pleaded for his life.

“I ask God to give me life, however painful. I can carry 100 crosses, your crown of thorns, but don’t take me yet. I still have things to do,” he said, according to press reports.

Catholic leaders spoke of Chavez’s relationship with the church and his legacy for Venezuelans.

“The people of Venezuela held him up, considered him a public leader that they felt a connection to; someone they were close with,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate of Caracas, secretary-general of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference. There was “great hope for his recovery and that he would serve his third term.”

Chavez, a former military lieutenant colonel, gained attention as leader of a failed coup in 1992. In 2000 he was elected president. He was due to be inaugurated for his third six-year term Jan. 10, but because of his illness he was never sworn in.

During his 13 years in office, he placed price caps on products sold by multinational companies and food basics. Chavez’s critics, including many church leaders, said his programs were inefficient and indoctrinated poor Venezuelans in socialist philosophy.

Those programs won him political popularity among the poor, but with food basics, like milk and sugar, in short supply, the cost of some products rising with runaway inflation, and a high crime rate, his support within the poor neighborhoods waned.

The roughly 90,000 mostly poor, mostly Catholic Venezuelans that live in Carcacas’ 23 de Enero neighborhood have mixed feelings about Chavez’s legacy, said Franciscan Father Angel Antonio Tornero, pastor at Cristo Rey Parish.

“There have been many improvements to infrastructure and the community. The prices of food are lower. Chavez has support from many for the work that his government has done,” Father Tornero said. “But there are contradictions. There are shortages of food, and many people feel like the government ignores their needs.”

Tornero said the government has slashed funding to Catholic schools in the barrio, leaving them in a “financial crisis.”

Church leaders said the church’s relationship with the president was complicated, if not at times downright nasty.

“There were years that were difficult, tense,” said Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate. “There were attacks and strong responses. … But I feel that there was a calming in the past year.”

He said that in the second half of 2012, the bishops’ conference held two meetings with top Chavez government officials, including Vice President Nicolas Maduro, whom Chavez tapped as his successor.

In July, Chavez called the conference and suggested he was open to a face-to-face meeting, which would have been the first in at least six years, Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate said.

Chavez first won election in 1998, promising a Cuban-influenced socialist “Bolivarian revolution.” He used the nation’s oil resources and a ballooning national debt to fund social programs that cut the South American country’s poverty rate.

Initially, the relationship between Chavez and church leaders seemed warm. But it did not take long for things to sour.

Church leaders lent support to a short-lived coup that overthrew Chavez for 48 hours in 2002, saying he was abusing power and eroding democratic institutions. They kept up their criticism and, several years later, some Chavez supporters said that, with the hierarchy’s almost obsessive opposition to the president, the bishops had distanced themselves from poor Venezuelans.

One community activist told Catholic News Service: “I agree there should be criticisms” of the government, “but constructive criticism that unites instead of separating.”

The war of words continued, with successive Venezuelan Catholic leaders criticizing the president, who returned the criticism.

More recently, Chavez had suggested he was willing to mend relations with church leaders. In a July interview with Venezuelan state-owned television, he said, “hopefully we can manage to establish a good relationship with the Catholic hierarchy and to work together for the country.

“The church can contribute much along with the government in the fight against poverty, misery and crime,” he said.

Bishop Gonzalez de Zarate said that Chavez had “opened the door” to improved relations.

“I’m not saying we have had fluid relations with the government, but there has been improvement,” he said.

Born July 28, 1954, as the second of seven children of schoolteachers, Chavez was raised by his grandmother, a devout Catholic. He was an altar boy at his local church in a rural village in Barinas. As a child, he reportedly had always thought that he would become a priest.

As an adult, has described himself as a “Christian” whose policies are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

He used religion to win support from religious groups that helped elect him president in three consecutive elections.

“You have to take into account the evangelical card, which is his support base,” Nikolas Kozloff, author of “Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the U.S.,” said in an email several months before the president’s death. “Chavez has his own brand of Christian socialism, and he plays up the Christ martyr complex in his rhetoric.”

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