The Augustinian Recollects of Venezuela: testimonies of faith and hope

The Augustinian Recollect religious have continued with the Venezuelan people despite the crisis, which has worsened in recent weeks. This has made them modify their pastoral activity, but always close to the reality of Venezuela.

Venezuela is going through a serious situation that has affected the fundamental rights of its inhabitants, such as food and health. In recent weeks, this crisis has been aggravated by numerous power cuts. The communities of Augustinian Recollect friars present in the country continue to remain at the side of their people, living their revitalization and restructuring from this complex and challenging reality; they are giving testimony of men of faith and of a living and open community, helping all those in need.

Eddy Omar Polo, vicar of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova in Venezuela, points out that there are 40 Augustinian Recollects in different states of the country attending nine communities, 15 parishes, four schools and one house of formation. They also provide social support through ARCORES, which allows them to be close to the people, strengthening their charismatic identity. “We want to be a light and raise our voice of denunciation in the face of any fact that threatens life and human rights in Venezuela,” he says.

Changes in parish life

Adelmo Irene Bustamante is one of the 40 Augustinian Recollect religious who continue with the people of Venezuela. This friar, a native of Peru, is pastor of Santa Rosa de Lima parish in Maracaibo – Zulia state – a place of many social problems, delinquency, drug addiction and poverty. It is also one of the areas most affected by the Venezuelan crisis. “The situation in the country has led to changes at the parish level, such as changes in the timetables of the Eucharist due to electric rationing and lack of transportation. This forces the parish to minimize its apostolate and try to adapt to the circumstances,” he explains.

The parish of San Agatón, in spite of the crisis that the country is experiencing, shows a talented race, alive and awake, attributes that have been preserved thanks to the presence of the Augustinian Recollect friars. The pastoral work has been organized in four important aspects as a religious community: the sense of communion, being a participative church; the concern for formation through coexistence, workshops, catechesis and apostolate groups; the mission, where they carry out evangelization monthly house by house in the different sectors of the parish, reaching their ten communities; and human promotion and solidarity thanks to the support of ARCORES.

Close to the harsh reality

The state of Zulia has been one of the hardest hit by electrical failures. The lack of food, water, medicine and fuel has tested the ability of its citizens to survive. High temperatures, looting and difficulties in making transactions due to lack of electricity and cash make everyday life in the entity uphill. This has led the friars in this region of the country to look for pastoral strategies to feed hope in the people entrusted to them, a people that not only seeks God, but also seeks help to eat, drink, obtain medicine and to solve all difficulties.

It is difficult to hear a person say to you, ‘Father, I have not been able to attend Mass because I have 15 days without a bath due to lack of water.

The Augustinian Recollect Alfredo Sánchez is currently the superior of the Maracaibo community and pastor of the San Onofre Church, another of the Augustinian Recollect ministries in the city. He said that as a consequence of the energy crisis they have had to bring forward the schedules of the Eucharist and seek resources to help meet the needs that the citizens are living. “It is difficult to hear a person say to you, ‘Father, I have not been able to attend Mass because I have 15 days without bathing because of lack of water, the water that comes to me is only for eating. It’s difficult to go six days without drinking cold water, or people who come for medicine and have already resigned themselves to dying because they don’t get their medicine,” Sanchez said.

“From the order we are giving of what we can give, close to the people, carrying that message of faith, hope and mercy that as religious we must transmit,” summarizes Bustamante. For the vicar in Venezuela, the idea is clear: “Our priestly ministry, our religious and fraternal life as Augustinian Recollects is configured in the communion that we have among each one of us, being witness and witness of the resurrection of Christ.