Despite all the opportunities I’ve had to witness the passionate support that followers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez show their leader, it was a profound moment for me when I photographed a sobbing woman at an emotional Mass called to pray for his health after he vanished from public sight following an operation in Cuba.

Venezuelans had more than 20 days of deep uncertainty at the end of June during which no one seemed to know what had happened to the charismatic but tough 56-year-old.

Rumors swirled, fueled by the official secrecy, with the only line given by the government that the socialist leader had undergone surgery in Havana to remove a pelvic abscess, but would be coming home soon.

Finally, the news came via Twitter on the night of June 30 that he would address the nation in a televised address at 9 pm.

The first thing that occurred to me was to race to Plaza Bolivar in the city center, specifically “La Esquina Caliente” (“the Hot Corner”), an emblematic place where large groups of Chavez loyalists normally gather.