In this Holy Week, vendors gathered around churches Venezuelan sell candles, holy virgins, and religious images in the likeness of Hugo Chávezwrites Marie Delcas in Le Monde (most of her article is pretty neutral, except for the positive-souding sentence, "some priests are more understanding" of the effort to beatify el Commandante — "Sur le terrain, certains prêtres se montrent plus compréhensifs" — suggesting that the leaders of the church are clueless and intolerant of an event that turns out to be pretty banal).
It shows the former president as a saint, bathed in heavenly light. "Hugo Chavez, Christ of the poor," reads one of them. In Caracas, in the 23 de Enero neighborhood where the remains of the head of state who died on March 5 is lying, a modest altar was inaugurated Thursday, March 28, in honor of "Saint Hugo Chávez."
Needless to say, the dignitaries of the Catholic Church are galled by the cult. Especially as the acting president and presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro has no qualms about playing the saint card. "We declare ourselves to be the apostles of Hugo Chávez, the apostles of the cause of el Commandante," Maduro declared on March 18. Polls expect the heir of the "eternal leader of the Bolivarian revolution" to win the March 14 [the April 14] election. The opposition accuses Maduro of exploiting the memory of Hugo Chávez, deifying him to hide its own shortcomings.
"GIVE ME YOUR CROSS"
This polling day turns out to be an important day in the Chávez calendar. Ousted by a coup on 11 April 2002, Hugo Chávez returned a hero on Sunday 14 early in the morning. For Nicolas Maduro, April 14 will be "the Sunday of Resurrection, the Sunday of popular victory, the Sunday of Christ the Redeemer of the poor in Latin America."
Referring to "the faith which we must not get away from," Cardinal Jorge Urosa Saviño, the Archbishop of Caracas, saw fit, on the occasion of the Holy Wednesday homily, to remind his listeners that "the Catholic religion is not guided by a human being, but by Jesus. No government and no man, no matter how beloved, can be equalled to Jesus Christ." Along with a reminder: "The religious aspect of life must be different from the socio-political aspect of life."
On the ground, some priests are more understanding. On the public TVT channel, Father Numa Molina, of Caracas's San Francisco parish, insisted that "President Hugo Chávez was a prophet who made his voice heard in favor of the forgotten and the excluded of the world."
At loggerheads with the Catholic hierarchy, Hugo Chávez never concealed his admiration for Christ, a "great revolutionary" and the "first socialist in history." His disease made him even more of a believer. "Give me your crown, Christ, give it to me that I bleed, give me your cross, give me a hundred crosses, but give me life," he implored publicly exactly one year ago.