One diocese in Venezuela came up with an ingenious pastoral solution in response to having to close its church doors because of the coronavirus.
Instead of people coming to the church to receive Holy Communion at Mass, the Bishop of San Cristóbal asked his priests to take the Blessed Sacrament to their church porches to bless the city.
Bishop Mario Moronta asked his 150 priests on Sunday (22nd March) to ring the church bells at 12 noon and go out with the Blessed Sacrament calling on God to rid the world of the pandemic.
Describing the pastoral initiative, Bishop Montana said its purpose was to “bless the whole city, the whole country, the neighbouring country of Colombia and the whole world, calling on God to free us from this pandemic”.
Some priests made a very short procession with the Blessed Sacrament around the empty streets in the immediate vicinity of their churches.
The South American country’s self-isolation and hygiene rules were observed throughout the blessing.
Venezuela’s bishops stopped all public Masses on 15th March, after the first two cases of COVID-19 in the country were confirmed on 13th March.
As of today (Tuesday, 24th March), there have been are 84 verified cases – no one has died and 15 have recovered following infection.
A doctor at one of the country’s hospitals told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that “the Venezuelan hospital system is not ready for the great emergency that could result from numerous people being infected by COVID-19.
“The precarious situation of the hospitals and the shortage of medicines is already well known throughout the world.”
ACN was told that there is also a shortage of testing equipment – making it difficult to know exactly how many Venezuelans have the virus.
Dr Oscar Noguera, director of NGO Ancora Humanistas, told the Al Jazeera news service that health professionals are complaining about the lack of protective clothing and added: “The number of intensive care beds available in the country is barely close to 80.”
The corona pandemic comes on the heels of a series of other crises which have rocked the country, including political ruptions, hyperinflation and shortages of medicine and food.
Concern has been expressed that, during the imposed isolation period, people will not be able to afford to feed themselves without an income.
Ester Chacón, a small trader, told ACN: “I don’t know how long we will have to put up with the quarantine, but if the virus doesn’t kill us, we will die of hunger instead.”
Bishop Moronta called on authorities to “guarantee its citizens safe access to food and medicines, to medical care and also to ensure there are no power cuts or shortages of water and other essential services.
“We also call on them to take note of the immoral practices of certain persons who are exploiting the health emergency and unreasonably raising the prices of essential commodities for all the people.
“Those who are behaving in this manner have no fear of God.”
ACN has supported the Church in Venezuela with formation for priests and Sisters, and emergency aid projects including food kitchens and electricity generators.