|President Chavez receives sacrament of Anointing|
This may be the case for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who last year waged a very public war of words against the Roman Catholic Church for opposing his regime, and now, as he battles cancer, is apparently turning to God and the Church, for solace.
Tuesday night, the 56-year-old, who returned home after spending almost an entire month in Cuba to have surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, which he described, was the size of a baseball, from his pelvic area, was shown on Venezuela’s national TV network attending Mass at Caracas’ Military Academy Cathedral.
Cameras rolled as Chavez prayed, participated in the liturgy and later received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, usually the last of the seven Roman Catholic sacraments, which is normally administered to those who are in the latter stages of life or are facing a grave illness.
Although, it must be stated, the priest officiating the Mass and administering the sacrament, Bishop Mario Moronta, is a personal friend, who Chavez has openly asked the Vatican to elevate to Cardinal.
Still, this public display of faith seems odd, considering his self-proclaimed socialist views, which the Church condemns, and his antagonistic relationship the Venezuelan Church.
The man, who once stated that Jesus Christ was the first socialist and revolutionary, who rebelled against religious hierarchies, imperialism, and was an agent for change, was raised Roman Catholic. In his youth, he served as an altar boy, and, says, even considered the priesthood.
However, his political allies, which includes dictators, communists and extreme leftist and radical world leaders, and socialists measures have prompted concern by Church and opposition leaders, who have been harassed, intimidated, threatened and some say worse.
Many Venezuelan clergy have been outspoken in warning parishioners about Chavez, including Cardinal Jorge Urosa who said he wants to model the country after Communist Cuba.
In turn, Chavez has denounced and threatened to prosecute certain Venezuelan Church leaders, including Urosa, calling them anti-Christian, liars, and that if Jesus were around today, he would whip them all.
Venezuela is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, which according to studies, accounts for over 90% of the population. Therefore the Church’s outspokenness against Chavez’s socialists and authoritarian initiatives have rattled the feathers of the Venezuelan leader.
Regardless, during the time he was in Cuba getting treatment, Church leaders urged countrymen to pray for his full recovery.
Upon his return to Venezuela, the flamboyant president expressed thankfulness and praise to God. Now, as he starts the next phase of his treatment, which he says calls for radiation or chemotherapy, he may be open to reconciliation with the Church.
Since it is also often said, the Church is a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints, Chavez should fit in quite nicely.
Let's hope his publicized re-embracing of faith is a sincere conversion that will lead to his serving Christ, His Church and his country accordingly. Then again, he is running for re-election, and this could be a good way to garner sympathy votes.
In any event, only God can judge his heart…