By BosNewsLife Americas Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CARACAS, VENEZUELA (BosNewsLife)– An influential Catholic relief group says it hopes Venezuela’s government will respect religious rights again in the South American nation following the death of President Hugo Chavez, whose Socialist revolution allegedly threatened the Catholic Church.
“Now there is hope that the Roman-Catholic Church in Venezuela will have the freedom again to carry out her pastoral tasks,” said Joris van Voorst tot Voorst, the director of Netherlands-based Kerk in Nood (Church in Need).
Under Chavez, he said, legislation was introduced banning religion from schools, despite the presence of many Catholic-led schools and religious freedom references in the country’s constitution.
Though 98 percent of Venezuelans claim to be Catholic, the Catholic Church has been oppressed by a government “intended to eliminate the work of the Church,” Church in Need quoted a source of the bishops conference as saying.
Van Voorst tot Voorst said local authorities even launched plans to “nationalize Catholic schools as the buildings were needed ‘for the national interests’,” of this nation of 29 million people.
He said Parliament also was to vote on a law proposal about religion and religious views. “It is unclear whether this has already happened,” he told BosNewsLife in a statement.
But following Chavez death, “The people have now a concrete chance to take religious freedom seriously,” he said.
His comments came as Venezuelans began seven days of painful and public mourning following the announcement that their president and former paratrooper , Hugo Chavez, had passed away aged 58 after losing his battle against cancer.
Breaking the news about his death on Tuesday, March 5, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro urged the nation to remain united after its leader’s demise.
“Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love,” he said.
Elections were to be held within 30 days.
Chavez leaves behind a troubled nation where running a revolution took a toll on his personal life. He was twice married, and divorced, and leaves behind four children.
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