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Venezuelan Catholics face backlash for opposing government

February 23, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 23, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After speaking against alleged government misconduct, human rights abuses and delay of free elections, Catholic churches and clergy around Venezuela are facing a wave of protests from pro-government supporters.

A string of incidents began on the morning of Jan. 29, as supporters of the current government interrupted a Mass at San Pedro Claver Church in a poor neighborhood of Caracas, Reuters reported.

The crowd of around 20 people hurled insults at the clergy, calling them “Satan in a cassock!” and “Fascist!” The protesters also used the chant “Chavez lives!” – in honor of late president and former leader of the ruling Socialist party, Hugo Chavez.

After the death of the socialist leader from cancer in 2013 and his succession by current Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, the country has faced both increases in violence and a number of social and political challenges, including the delay of the country’s regional elections.

The bishops’ strong stance against the current Venezuelan government – and other opinions echoed by priests around the country– has prompted backlash not only in the capital of Caracas, but in around the country. The cathedral of Caracas was hit with rocks, and protestors went to the home of the Archbishop Antonio Lopez of Barquisimeto after he said in a speech that socialism has brought “misery” to the country.

The same day as the protests in the Caracas parish of San Pedro Claver, police interrupted Mass in the city of Maracaibo. In the last week of January, gun-toting robbers attacked, threatened monks and stole from a Trappist monastery in the state of Merida.

Current head of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Diego Padron, told Reuters that “this list, in my opinion, shows they are not isolated events.”

One of the most contentious issues the country faces is the economy, where the world’s highest inflation rates, price controls and failed economic policies have resulted in severe shortages of basic necessities like medicines, milk, flour, toilet paper and other essentials.

The shortages have their roots in policies enacted by Chavez in 2003 that control the price of nearly 160 products such as flour, milk, oil and soap. While these products are affordable at the government listed price, they are in short supply and fly off the shelves, ending up on the black market at much higher rates.

To complicate matters further, there have been numerous reports of the Venezuelan army’s use of their position in guarding food supply and distribution as a means of participating and making money off the black markets. The supply shortages and other opportunities for corruption have also allowed other government officials and businesspeople to profit off of the troubles facing the Venezuelan people.

Since Maduro took office, Venezuela has also experienced a spike in violent crime, with one of the world’s highest murder rates. Opponents of the Maduro regime also report that the government has used its power to jail protesters and circumvent elections – essentially becoming a dictatorship.
Some of these opponents include the Venezuelan Bishops.

In a Feb. 7 interview with the archdiocese, the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino criticized the suspension of regional elections and his displeasure with the government’s approach to political processes.  

“Without a doubt, it’s not a modern democracy,” the cardinal said. “Democracy is respect for the people, observance of the constitution, division and functioning of public powers, enforcement of all the promises, absence of political prisoners, free elections.”

“It’s already a dictatorship.”

The regional elections – which were scheduled for late 2016 and then delayed by the government – will take place later this year. According to the government, the delays were put in place to allow time for the reorganization of political organizations.

Before the delay of the elections, the Church helped to facilitate talks between the Maduro government and the opposition coalition. However, the talks collapsed with tensions and accusations from both sides.

The former president of of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Bishop Ovidio Pérez Morales has also criticized the government and assured that the Church cannot remain quiet in the face of the government’s human right abuses.

“Morally, I cannot accept the violation of human rights,” he said in a Feb. 1 interview with Union Radio. “I can’t accept that the state considers itself the owner of persons.”

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Sodalits provide information on abuse of minors to Peruvian prosecutors

February 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Feb 20, 2017 / 11:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The head of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae on Friday turned over to Peru’s Office of the Public Prosecutor the information identified in a recent report on the community regarding the sexual abuse of minors by its founder and by four of its former members.

Alessandro Moroni Llabres, superior general of the Sodalits, went to the public prosecutor’s office Feb. 17 “to make available to the authorities all the information in reference to the cases of the sexual abuse of minors identified in the investigation by international experts,” the community announced.

After handing over the report, Moroni stated: “we are continuing to seek out the truth. We are asking for your prayers for this work in a special way for the victims and all those who are suffering.”

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life which was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in 1997. CNA’s executive director, Alejandro Bermúdez, and its global director of operations, Ryan Thomas, are both members of the community.

A two-part report made public Feb. 14 detailed sexual, physical and psychological abuses committed by members of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, both those who have left the community and those who remain in it.

In addition to the movement’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, four other Sodalits were reported to have sexually abused minors. The report named the other offenders, none of whom are still part of the community. These abuses occurred between 1975 and 2007.

Seven of the Sodalits “who were identified as having physically or psychologically abused” another member or a person in formation are still in the community and performing external ministry. They have had administrative actions taken against them and are receiving training. The report did not give their names. The instances of physical and psychological abuse occurred between 1971 and 2010, the report stated.

The reports were authored by Kathleen McChesney of Kinsale Management Consulting; Monica Applewhite of Confianza, LLC; and Ian Elliott of Ian Elliott Safeguarding.

“It is the professional opinion of the reviewers that the incidents of abuse described in this report occurred,” the report noted. “However, this opinion does not represent an investigatory conclusion, nor does it constitute the findings of a legal or canonical proceeding.”

In 2015, an apostolic visitor was appointed to the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, and an ethics commission was created to investigate and offer proposals surrounding the accusations of abuse against Figari. The following year, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark was appointed the Vatican’s delegate to oversee ongoing reform of the Sodalits.

In January the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae announced that 66 persons can be considered victims of abuse or mistreatment by members of the community, and that it has set aside more than $2.8 million in reparations and assistance for victims. Figari was also barred from contacting members of the community.

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New Sodalit report details severe sexual, psychological abuse

February 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lima, Peru, Feb 14, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A two-part report made public on Tuesday detail sexual, physical and psychological abuses committed by members of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, both those who have left the community and those who remain in it.

In addition to the movement’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, four other Sodalits were reported to have sexually abused minors. The report named the other offenders, none of whom are still part of the community.

Seven of the Sodalits “who were identified as having physically or psychologically abused” another member or a person in formation are still in the community and performing external ministry. They have had administrative actions taken against them and are receiving training. The report did not give their names.

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life which was founded in 1971 in Peru, and granted pontifical recognition in 1997. CNA’s executive director, Alejandro Bermúdez, and its global director of operations, Ryan Thomas, are both members of the community.

The first report released Tuesday detailed the acts of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse reported to have been committed by Figari, as well as reported sexual abuse by four former Sodalits. No current members of the Sodalitium except for Figari, who has been barred from community life and contact with other members, have been reported to have committed sexual abuse of minors.

The second report discussed other kinds of abuse perpetrated by Sodalits, the harm done, the community’s responses to the allegations, accountability measures and its ongoing work to prevent future abuse. It also described some of the causes of the abuse, the difficulties in reporting it, and the past and present culture of the Sodalitium.

“We again ask forgiveness from each person that has been hurt by a member or a former member of the Sodalitium,” said Superior General Alessandro Moroni Llabres upon the release of the report. “We are committed to a process of self-examination and of change.”

The reports were authored by Kathleen McChesney of Kinsale Management Consulting; Monica Applewhite of Confianza, LLC; and Ian Elliott of Ian Elliott Safeguarding.

“It is the professional opinion of the reviewers that the incidents of abuse described in this report occurred,” the text noted. “However, this opinion does not represent an investigatory conclusion, nor does it constitute the findings of a legal or canonical proceeding.”

Figari’s abuses

Figari, in addition to being the founder and long-time superior general of the Sodalits, was also spiritual director to many of the members. According to the report, he “used his leadership status to have authoritarian direction and control of most Sodalits,” and he was able “to abuse some young members and aspirants of the SCV community.”

“It is clear that Figari sexually abused at least one minor male, sexually abused or sexually manipulated several other young men, and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others, including those he sexually abused,” the report stated, adding that he knew of three other Sodalits who sexually abused minors.

In addition to sexual abuse, Figari sexually manipulated several young men – he used his authority to cause the victims to act in a sexual manner, but in a way that did not rise to the level of sexual abuse.

Figari’s sexual abuse and manipulation at times “occurred under the auspices of Figari’s providing spiritual advice to the victims,” the report said, and he sometimes told the victims the acts “were part of his mystical powers.”

It began as early as 1975, when Figari molested a 15 year old boy, who “was afraid to report his abuse to the SCV or civil authorities because Figari, as the founder of the SCV, was the most powerful person in the SCV community.”

Figari also committed physical abuse; he has been widely described as “appearing to enjoy observing the younger aspirants and brothers experience pain, discomfort and fear.” He reportedly burned an individual with a candle, and menaced members with his dog, allowing it to bite them at times.

As superior general until 2010, Figari was also responsible for the formation of Sodalits, which was extremely physically demanding. “Numerous witnesses described the formation program that Figari developed as being modeled after military training techniques depicted in movies that he regularly watched,” read the report.

Formatees were thus “subjected to continuous, strenuous, unnecessary and, often, unrealistic physical requirements,” such as swimming in cold ocean waters for several hours at a time, running long distances in inclement weather, and performing difficult exercises for extended periods of time.

Physical abuse was also used as a disciplinary measure: those in formation were made to sleep on stairways for many nights at a time, to stay awake all night in chapel, or were denied food or water.

Furthermore, Figari committed psychological abuse, the report said – while some Sodalits regarded him as kind and paternal, he was also “frequently described by both former and current Sodalits as narcissistic, paranoid, demeaning, vulgar, vindictive, manipulative, racist, sexist, elitist, and obsessed with sexual issues” and sexual orientation.

He was also described “as an arrogant man who treated many of the Sodalits as his servants.” His closest aids “typically worked 12-14 hours each day,” and if they “did not anticipate or respond quickly to his requests, or if they made even the smallest mistake, Figari would criticize and berate them in front of each other.”

In addition to Figari, four other (now former) Sodalits committed reported sexual abuse of minors: Germán Doig Klinge, Virgilio Levaggi Vega, Jeffrey Daniels Valderrama, and Daniel Murguía Ward. This occurred between 1975 and 2007. Three of these offenders, including Figari, also sexually abused adults. No conspiracy among the alleged abusers was found.

Other types of abuse

The second report discussed abuse by Sodalits which was not sexual abuse of minors, but which victimized Sodalits, members of the Sodalitium family, and young people who participated in youth groups associated with the community.

“Physical and psychological abuse of aspirants and Sodalits was more prevalent than sexual abuse,” the report noted, and it occurred most often during “aspirance” or formation.

One testimony included in the report described an older Sodalit holding a small knife to a younger member’s throat, and forcing him to eat bowls of salt and ketchup until he became physically ill. Several others recalled members being instructed to hit one another.

Not every member experienced abuse, but many of those who did have suffered continuing psychological and spiritual harm, and some have suffered financially after leaving the community, failing to find steady employment because “their superiors prevented them from receiving a professional education.” Some even lost their belief in God.

The majority of Sodalits “were, and are, pious and of good, moral character, and attracted by the Gospel and the positive aspects of the SCV’s culture,” the report said, and “it was not the SCV’s culture that caused the offenders to commit acts of abuse,” although some authorities in the organization permitted or encouraged these abuses.  

But while the organization’s original goals were admirable, it said, many members “reported a significant measure of the organization’s focus and energies shifted from these goals to increasing its power and influence in the Catholic Church.”

This resulted in practices which “overemphasized vocations, cultivating relationships with influential members of the Catholic hierarchy and influential members of the communities they served, and protection of the SCV’s reputation.”

“Many former Sodalits felt pressured to join or stay in the SCV, not because they had a true vocation but, rather, to increase the size of the SCV and to impress the Catholic hierarchy in South America and the Holy See.”

The report described a culture of secrecy where “new members were directed to distance themselves from their families,” as well as promises of “total obedience,” by which “some Sodalits felt pressured to obey their superiors in all matters, even when they were directed to treat their brothers in ways that were destructive to their physical or mental well-being.”

In 1998, Figari demanded that formation become more rigorous, and a new superior installed at this time is the subject of most reports of severe physical and psychological abuse. Formators continued to make “unnecessary physical demands and put psychological pressures on the students” until 2010, according to the report.

The report attributed the lack of training and formal requirements for formators to be at the root of much of the physical and psychological abuse, noting that the superiors and formators “were mostly young, inexperienced and immature.”

Victims – often young adults – were afraid to come forward, the report said, “especially because their offenders were in more senior, powerful positions, or were their spiritual directors.”

“Until 2016, there was no formal, confidential, neutral process for addressing allegations and when victims did report abuse, the SCV’s lack of policies and protocols in these matters resulted in inconsistent responses from the authorities.”

It noted that “a few subordinates are still fearful of complaining to SCV authorities, even confidentially” and that there is currently “no formal complaint or conflict resolution process within the SCV to manage grievances and disagreements.”

“Until such a process is in place, personnel management problems are likely to disrupt some of the work of the SCV,” the report said.

In total, sexual abuse or manipulation against adults was committed by seven Sodalits, the report said: 14 men and three women were sexually abused, and 14 men were sexually manipulated. These acts occurred between 1975 and 2009. Only two remain in community life: one has been removed from all external ministry, and one performs restricted ministry.

Another Sodalit who has demonstrated inappropriate behavior with adults and minors is not allowed to have external ministry, is prohibited from being alone or working with minors, and is being monitored by persons of authority.

Physical and psychological abuse by Sodalits occurred between 1971 and 2010, the report said. At least 18 Sodalits and aspirants have reported they were physically and/or psychologically abused by 11 Sodalits – though this figure “does not include one brother who was reported to have verbally harassed several persons. This brother has acknowledged his anger issues and is being assisted and closely monitored by SCV authorities.”

Two of those who committed physical or psychological abuse have left the Sodalitium. Of the nine who remain in the community, four were superiors or formators but have been removed from those position; two of the nine do not currently perform external ministry.

Sodalit authorities “have taken administrative actions against them that are appropriate to their offenses with the goal of preventing future abuse and ensuring that the men are held responsible for their abusive behavior. Each offender has been, or will be provided with, specific training regarding the conduct expected of a Sodalit.”

While this abuse largely occurred in the 1980s and ’90s, “there are a few current members who feel that some senior Sodalits still do not treat them with respect or have anger management problems,” the report said. The community’s superiors are addressing these matters.  

The Sodalitium’s response

Figari’s sexual abuse was first reported to another Sodalit authority in 2002, and other victims first submitted formal complaints to ecclesial or civil authorities in 2011. The victim who reported his abuse in 2002 did not want to provide a written testimony or begin a formal canonical process against Figari, according to the report.

The allegation made in May 2011 was made to Lima’s interdiocesan tribunal, which forwarded it to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Two other allegations were forwarded to the congregation by September 2011.

The then-superior general of the Sodalits, Eduardo Regal Villa, heard of allegations and became concerned about Figari’s behavior and actions. Regal directed Figari to withdraw from public life, but “the other members of the community did not know of these measures and thought that Figari retired because of health issues.”

Regal visited Rome to meet with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life in November 2011 and October 2012 to discuss the canonical case against Figari, and also pursued the issue with the archdiocese and tribunal of Lima.

Much of the Sodalits’ handling of the allegations of Figari’s sexual abuse has occurred under the leadership of Moroni, who was elected superior general in December 2012.

In 2015, an apostolic visitor was appointed to the community, and an ethics commission was created to investigate and offer proposals surrounding the accusations of abuse against Figari. The following year, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark was appointed the Vatican’s delegate to oversee ongoing reform of the Sodalits. Tobin had been secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life from August 2010 until Oct 2012.

In January the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae announced that 66 persons can be considered victims of abuse of mistreatment by members of the community, and that it has set aside more than $2.8 million in reparations and assistance for victims. Figari was also barred from contacting members of the community.

The report found that the Sodalitium had sometimes offered an “ineffective or non-existent response” to allegations, which allowed abuses to continue. The community lacked procedures for responding to allegations until 2016. Some Sodalits “would try to convince the victims that what they had experienced was not abuse, or they would accuse the victims of lying,” the report said, noting that some members believed the community’s response to be driven by a desire to protect its own reputation.

Moving forward

In 2016, a review team made 35 recommendations to promote a safer environment in the Sodalitium, all of which have been accepted by the community. Several have already been completed.

Ongoing recommendations including providing Sodalit authorities with training to respond to abuse allegations; better records and reports; screening of new members; reviewing the formation process; offering abuse awareness and prevention training; determining the role that leaders who failed to respond to reports of abuse have in the future of the congregation; enhancing communication and transparency; and allowing external reviews.

Recommendations whose implementation are pending are the establishment of a review board to evaluate abuse allegations; establishing a policy regarding social media, texting, and other communications with minors, aspirants, and formatees; establishing and publishing a code of conduct for members and consequences for misconduct; developing guidelines for suitability for ministry; designating an ombudsman to assist members in dealing with grievances; establishing a policy to communicate with various audiences regarding abuse reporting.

The Sodalits’ Superior Council has also accepted the review team’s 14 recommendations for current members who have harmed others in the past. Consistent with best practices and canonical guidelines, recommendations regarding specific individuals are confidential, the report said.

Turning to the future of the Sodalitium, the report said that most victims interviewed “hope to see the community fundamentally changed for the better and recognize that some constructive changes have taken place in the discernment and formation process,” though some would prefer to see the institution “suppressed or disbanded … they continue to distrust the community and seriously doubt that it has the ability to change.”

According to the report, the Sodalitium’s culture “has evolved in positive ways in the past decade,” and that the militaristic emphasis and that on impressing the hierarchy “are no longer evident” in its daily works. Discernment is now a more free process. Candidates are encouraged to finish college before entering formation, and “today’s formators and superiors treat the students with respect and dignity.”

 

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This surfing school in Chile was created for kids with Down syndrome

February 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Santiago, Chile, Feb 7, 2017 / 01:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sundays, Felipe Pereira is full of enthusiasm. That’s because on Sundays, the 21-year-old goes to Paradise Beach to enjoy the sea along with his friends and to learn how to surf.

For children and young adults with mental disabilities, this is more than a sport. It is the Waves of Hope free surfing school, based in northern Chile’s Antofagasta region.

The school is directed by Chilean surfing enthusiasts Claudio Morales, Catalina Daniels and Pablo Marín. They launched the program five years ago.

After knocking on a lot of doors, running pilot projects, consulting with specialists, and coming up with financing, they began their first class with six surfboards and six wetsuits.

Each Sunday from December to February, the three directors and other volunteers welcome up to 15 children with Down syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome and autism, giving them completely personalized classes adapted to each person’s condition.

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Pereira is a very sociable young man who does folk dancing, goes swimming, and works in his school’s bake shop. He told CNA that what he likes most about the surfing classes is “getting on top of the surf board and catching the waves.”

“I like the sea. I really like to go,” he said. Pereira also liked his instructors, saying, “I like how nice they are to us, I love what they do.”

Instructor Catalina Daniels told CNA that her students “challenge you to change. You can’t go on being the same.”

“They are a tremendous example of how love is the driving force of the best things, the best times, the best efforts. Affectionate warmth is the best investment and with them it’s incredible,” she said.

Daniels also discussed the impact of faith, saying “the person who knows Christ, Jesus, who by his mercy came into your life, can’t be the same. You have to be better, more loving, more understanding, more tolerant, because they are.”

Surfing requires strength, balance, agility, and a lot of technique. But what is most important, the Waves of Hope founders recognize, is the relationship between the instructor and the student. This breaks down the barriers of discrimination to make way for integration.

Many Chileans have never spoken or shaken hands with a person with Down syndrome.

“So very motivated volunteers come, but the first day they don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to act, they try to help, but even they freeze up,” Daniels told CNA.

But the students laugh and tell jokes, and eventually, relationships are formed.

“They have an incredible time. They float, row, do group dynamics, take up the surfboard. They have demonstrated that they can do a lot, they have overcome many difficulties related to their condition,” Daniels said.

She explained that the problem is rooted in discrimination and the lack of proper integration.

“They were born struggling with frustration, they were born already disadvantaged,” she said of the students. “It was really hard getting support from the businesses. Why don’t we see girls with Down syndrome promoting products in advertising? Because the beauty of our students is an atypical beauty and no one wants it on their front page.”

“Chile is a country that creates handicaps,” she reflected, adding that trends to de-value family, school and the Church also cause problems for the disabled.

Daniels recommended that people draw closer to God: “to give love you have to be with the Creator of love…When you have love, you have to give it, you have to give it shape, make it real.”

Claudio Morales, another director, added that the volunteers are “the big winners” of Waves of Hope.

“Children with Down syndrome capture your heart in an incredible way,” he said. “I believe that all the volunteers have a changed way of looking at life.”

 

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Archbishop: There’s a ‘bloodbath’ going on in Venezuela

January 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 31, 2017 / 02:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When asked by a reporter about the threat of civil war in his country, Archbishop Ubaldo Santana of Maracaibo responded starkly: “there is already a bloodbath of considerable proportions in Venezuela.”

“We’re talking about 30,000 people murdered a year, and if we don’t manage to find peaceful ways to understand each other, that number can increase,” he said in a recent interview.

Archbishop Santana, the former head of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, made his remarks to the Alpha and Omega news weekly during a visit to Spain, in which he discussed various issues related to the grave crisis affecting Venezuela.

In the wake of Nicolas Maduro succeeding former socialist president Hugo Chavez after the latter died from cancer in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval.

Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.

Venezuela’s socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The Venezuelan government is known to be among the most corrupt in Latin America, and violent crime in the country has spiked since Maduro took office.

In response to a question about the possibility of a civil war in the South American country, Archbishop Santana said that a potential conflict “would be in very asymmetrical terms.”

“The party that possesses weaponry belongs to the government,” he clarified. “I can’t say the opposition groups don’t have weapons, because today arms trafficking is uncontrollable, but perhaps not in the number and quantity of the other groups.”

“That doesn’t mean there can’t be a bloodbath. In fact, we can say that in Venezuela there already is a bloodbath of considerable proportions,” the archbishop said.

He noted added that “there are armed groups all over the country. In Maracaibo, we have in addition groups of criminals and gang members that would seem to enjoy a certain impunity. We know that there’s a lot of overcrowding in the prisons and at times the authorities have opted for a massive release of prisoners to reduce the congestion.”

There are also “extortion rings,” he noted, “that operate in the city, many are undercover in the security forces, not infrequently backed by operatives in some of those groups who by day keep order and at night are robbing.”

To this “is added is the presence of irregular armed groups on the border who come from Colombia,” he said. “They ensure protection, order and the resolution of small neighborhood conflicts
upon payment of what we call a ‘vaccine.’”

A “vaccine” is an illegal charge that armed groups in Venezuela and Colombia use to allow passage through territory they control. Archbishop Santana said that these are paramilitary groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and some factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that have not demobilized.

Despite the country’s problems, a recent assembly of bishops and lay people held in Venezuela had an upshot that “was highly positive,” he said. “You could feel a great deal of consensus  in the lay people’s feeling regarding the need for political change in the country.”

“We talked about how the laity could play a more important role in the Church and in their transformative action in diverse social environments,” he said.

The meeting also discussed “the formation being offered to lay people and its impact because we see they are not sufficiently present as Catholics in the political, economic and cultural worlds. The time was short, but it resulted in proposals for future meetings.”

Pope Francis also met with President Maduro in October of last year, According to the official Vatican communique on the meeting, Francis invited the president “to undertake with courage the path of sincere and constructive dialogue.”

He also invited the Venezuelan dictator to make it a priority “to alleviate the suffering of the people – first of all, those who are poor – and to promote a climate of renewed social cohesion which would offer a vision forward with hope for the future of the nation.”

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After performing 6,000 exorcisms, this priest says the devil fears him

January 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 19, 2017 / 04:22 pm (CNA).- Fr. Francisco Lopez Sedano is an 80-year-old Mexican exorcist. In the past 40 years of service, he has conducted at least 6,000 exorcisms.

And, he says, the devil is afraid of him.

Fr. Lopez told the newspaper Hoy Los Angeles (Los Angeles Today) that when the devil speaks to him through possessed people, he responds, “I am nobody, but I come from Christ, your Lord and God and you leave right now – I command you in His name that you go. Out!”

Fr. Lopez is the national coordinator emeritus of exorcism for the Archdiocese of Mexico, and he belongs to the order of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. Now, he continues his ministry in the Parish of the Holy Cross in Mexico City.

During the interview, the priest highlighted four things that he learned during his years as an exorcist.

First, he emphasized, the devil is a person and not a thing. He noted that Jesus confronted the devil many times and spoke to him. When speaking with a demon, “one isn’t talking with a thing, one is talking with a person.”

The evil one, he added, wants “to separate us from God, to frighten us, to threaten us, to make us tremble.”

“He brings us laziness, fatigue, sleepiness, distrust, desperation, hate; everything negative.”

Second, Fr. Lopez noted, the devil enters into persons because they allow him to do so.

“He can’t enter us if we do not open doors,” the priest said. “Because of this, God prohibits the practice of magic, superstition, witchcraft, sorcery, divination, consulting the dead and spirits and astrology. These are the seven lands of lies and deceit.”

“That the stars influence our life is the biggest lie. They are millions of kilometers away! They are bodies formed by metals and gasses – how can they influence us? It’s the same with magic, which attributes to objects a power that they don’t have. To carry a horseshoe because it’s going to give me good luck – it’s a lie.”

Another truth that Fr. Lopez has learned from decades of experience is that the possessed exhibit specific behaviors.

He said that he has observed possessed persons who “began to shout, to bark like a dog, to scream or writhe and who squirmed like a snake on the ground. There are a thousand forms.”

On one occasion, Fr. Lopez said, a boy around 18 years old pushed five large benches that were so heavy they should have required the strength of 10 people to move.

“He had a terrible strength. We had to get him between three people to practice the exorcism. Having the presence of the Other, already explains anything. They are able to climb the walls, yes. And fly too.”

Sometimes, the possessed person “hears voices, feels hatred or rejection of God where before they believed and now they stamp on the Bible. Other people have a terrible backache, but doctors say that they are perfectly fine.”

“The injuries of Satan are outside the control of clinical medicine,” he continued. “People who live with permanent diarrhea and nothing makes it go away; people who have eye pain and ophthalmologists find nothing. These are injuries that science does not detect.”

Finally, the priest said, decades of ministry have taught him that exorcism is a divine mandate.

Regarding his appointment as an exorcist some 40 years ago, he affirmed that it was “out of necessity” after seeing “very serious and painful cases.”

“A fellow priest who was involved in it made me see that fighting the Evil One was an obligation. He said to me, ‘You have to enter into this by the command of the Lord.’ The three mandates are to carry the word of God, heal the sick and cast out demons. All three are in valid in the Church.”

 

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