As Divina Pastora Season Turns Political, Maduro Threatens Bishops with Jail

For the second year running, Monsignor Antonio López Castillo gave a tough message to hundreds of thousands of Guaros. This year, though, the government has that Hate Law to threaten him with.

Last year, the Archbishop of Barquisimeto, Monsignor Antonio López Castillo, made a stinging attack on the government during the annual procession of the Divina Pastora, my hometown’s patron saint. The procession is a huge event here, the center of the Guaro religious (and, these days, political) calendar.

Monsignor López Castillo’s homily set off a huge beef with Nicolás Maduro. The fact that military exercises were scheduled for that same day didn’t help.

This year, the Archbishop came back with backup for round two. He asked la Pastora to “deliver us from hunger and corruption” and the Bishop of San Felipe, Monsignor Victor Hugo Basabe, had strong words during mass after the procession. He sent a message to the young Venezuelans who want to go abroad for a better life:

It’s not you kids who should leave. If there’s anyone who has to leave Venezuela it’s the people responsible for this disaster that we’ve been driven into, if anyone has to leave it’s the one responsible for thousands of children who crossed the limits of severe malnourishment.

Well, Nicolás Maduro used his annual speech to respond and asked that both clergymen be investigated for “hate crimes.” That’s right. Using the same Anti-Hate Law passed on November and already put into action this month.

Just hours later, Archbishop López Castillo rejected Maduro’s threats in a press conference: “We believe in justice, we believe in truth and we believe in peace.” Bishop Basabe went even further: “I’m not afraid, Mr. Maduro. Cowardice is not my thing.”

He also said that Maduro lied scandalously about his words and reaffirmed what he said in his homily.

The new leadership of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference (CEV) came to defend their fellow bishops: from Bishop of Barinas Jose Luis Azuaje and Bishop of San Cristobal Mario Moronta, Chairman and First Vice-Chairman of the CEV respectively. Another voice of solidarity was Cardinal Baltazar Porras, Archbishop of Mérida. The full radio interview with Porras (in RCR’s “La Fuerza es la Union”) starts here at 31:45.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Episcopal Conference later released a strong statement:

In a country that wishes to live in peace and reconciliation, that longs for a hopeful future instead of permanent condemn and threats simply for disagreeing with official conduct and judgement, we need rulers with enough integrity to treat all citizens with the same standards, and apply to themselves the laws that are applied to others.

Days before the procession, the CEV held its annual conference in Caracas and in its final document accused the dramatic situation in the country, from government policies that drive citizens to State dependency, to the desperate exodus of Venezuelans. They asked for a humanitarian channel and new conditions for talks between government and opposition.

Back at the Divina Pastora, the biggest highlight of that Sunday, beside the bishops’ words, was an incident in the Venezuela Avenue near the end of the event.

A special stage was built for military authorities so they could watch the procession, but some unhappy fellas threw orange peels at them, forcing them to leave early.

Mere hours later, we had news of two surprising non-working days in Lara State, given “the devotion shown by larenses” during the weekend. A creative excuse to hide our public transportation problems.