FaithWorld

Desecrations of Divine Shepherdess images stir polarized Venezuela

(President Hugo Chavez attends a Catholic mass in Caracas February 27, 2009/Miraflores Palace)

A wave of vandalism against sacred images has shocked Venezuelans and sparked finger-pointing between the two sides of the bitter political divide characterizing President Hugo Chavez’s rule. Most of the vandalism has been directed against statues and images of the “Divine Shepherdess” — a local patron saint whose annual festival is one of Latin America’s biggest.

Most shockingly, what seems to be a bullet-hole has pierced the cheek of one statue of the Shepherdess in the western state of Lara, while her attending sheep have been smashed. Among dozens of such desecrations in the last few weeks, the statue of a saintly doctor, Jose Gregorio Hernandez, was decapitated in Yaracuy state, while another sculpture of the “Coromoto Virgin” had her hands chopped off.

Red paint has been sprayed over various images.

“These are utterly horrible events that offend the Catholic sentiment of the Venezuelan people,” senior Catholic leader Monsignor Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate told local TV. No suspects have been caught and some think a “satanic” cult may be responsible — but many Venezuelans suspect politics may be to blame for the mystery vandalism.

Though often proclaiming his Catholicism and using religious language in speeches, the socialist Chavez has lambasted the church’s hierarchy throughout his 12 years in power as being aligned with Venezuela’s rich and elite. He has never forgiven Catholic leaders for their perceived blessing of a 2002 coup that briefly toppled him.

Honduran Catholic hierarchy opposes Zelaya and Chavez

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 12 April 2005/Alessandro Bianchi Honduras’ powerful Roman Catholic Church has backed the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, surrendering a chance to be an impartial mediator in order to counter the influence of Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez.

Leaders of the Catholic Church, the most respected institution in the country, have backed the ouster and thrown their weight behind the interim government installed by the Honduran Congress.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, often mentioned as a possible future pope, has justified Zelaya’s ouster while opposing his expulsion from the country. “He doesn’t have any authority, moral or legal,” Rodriguez told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Chavez takes moral high ground, closes “Bodies Revealed”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s closure of the “Bodies Revealed” exhibition of dissected human cadavers and subsequent confiscation of the bodies is perhaps the strongest government reaction yet to the worldwide trend for the traveling art and science shows that have been seen by millions.

VENEZUELA/

Chavez called the exhibition a sign of worldwide “moral decomposition,” adding to criticism of similar shows by the Roman Catholic church in Canada and controversy over the origin of the bodies when an exhibit arrived in New York. One academic cited Dante’s Inferno to describe the “Body World” exhibit as “Dead Body Porn.”

Chavez is a fervent Christian and frequently makes reference to Jesus Christ, who he says was the “first socialist.”