Last weekend, hundreds of thousands gather in the streets of Barquisimeto for the annual procession of our patron saint, La Divina Pastora. It’s the biggest of the big deals here, but the event was overshadowed by a nationwide military exercise taking place at the very same time.
The government organized the “Anti-Imperialist Wholistic Defense Exercise Zamora 200” (Ejercicio de Defensa Integral Antiimperialista Zamora 200 — for the 200th anniversary of noted cattle-rustler/psychopath Ezequiel Zamora’s birth) and showed it for several hours in mandatory broadcast (cadena nacional). The broadcast pre-empted most of the procession: who’s got time for the Virgin Mary when there are kalashnikovs to show off?
Roberto Lückert, Coro’s hyper-vocal Archbishop Emeritus and still a high-ranking member of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV), publicly took Nicolas Maduro to task for “…trying to hide the magnitude of the people’s devotion for the Divina Pastora” adding that “[Maduro] shouldn’t meddle in religious affairs”.
Lückert isn’t known as the most diplomatic of priests, and his messaging in here was questionable, considering Maduro himself and our local chavista leaders in Lara think that our ecclesiastical authorities should not be so politically vocal — especially during religious events.
Enter the Archbishop of Barquisimeto, Antonio José López Castillo:
In a series of speeches, first at the start of the procession at Santa Rosa and later at the official arrival spot in Macario Yépez Square, that felt like campaign speeches than homilies, the Archbishop was openly critical to the State’s mishandling of the humanitarian crisis and vowed to continue to speak out. He attacked the “failed socialist system” and offered his support to embattled local newspaper El Impulso.
The official reaction from Nicolas Maduro came three days later. I’m just gonna leave this right here.
“There was an expression of hate… from devils disguised with robes… everyone who messes with us will get dry, divine justice will come to them, because they’re devils. We’re the people of the Divina Pastora that walks along the people of Christ… God will take care of them”.
Before the military exercise, both Maduro and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino offered their salute to the Divina Pastora. During the cadena, they made a small pause in the demonstrations for a prayer led by a chaplain in front of a relic. VP Tareck El Aissami was also present.
Hours before Maduro’s statement, a group of local Chavistas gathered in front of the Archbishop’s official residence in town (who was not present at the time) and staged a loud protest over his words. Former Lara State Governor and high-rank PSUV member Luis Reyes Reyes hopes that “…bishops dedicate themselves more to the Church’s missions, like helping the sick and the poor”.
But Lopez Castillo has not apologized. Actually, he doubled down by denouncing that days before the procession a military officer asked him to “not talk about the social (issues) in the procession”. Backing the Archbishop are the current Lara State Governor Henri Falcon and the Mayor of Barquisimeto, Alfredo Ramos. The MUD-Lara also offered its full support to Lopez Castillo.
It’s curious that the situation with the procession and the military exercise not only happened at the same time, but also while the National Academies’ offices were being burglarized in Caracas. Overly-literal metaphors all around!
In Venezuela today, both faith and reason are under attack. The former by efforts to hide it and then divide it. The latter by running it right into the ground.