Travel Notes from Venezuela

Venezuela_04“I go back after 5 years. The impact is shocking. I don’t recognize Venezuela. The description given to me by the young man sitting next to me on the plane expresses the suffering of an afflicted but unresigned people. ‘I still have a bit of hope!’ he said to me as he described the beautiful sites in his country and invited to visit them.

There’s a sense of emptiness in Caracas. Only the children provide a touch of liveliness to the absurd-looking reality.

The journey to Puerto Ayucucho lasts 17 hours. Along the way my gaze is fixed on a girl rummaging in the garbage bins, looking for something to eat. But it is mostly the news of two boys 14 and 15 years old who were killed when caught stealing some mangos from a tree, that highlights the level of fear and non-sharing that has been reached. This is another form of homicide that is caused by hunger.

The city is on the Colombia border. Its festering wound is represented in the murders of young people who, in the eyes of those who should protect them, appear to be violent thieves to be served the ulitmate punishment. This is also what happened to Felipe Andrés, a young seventeen-year-old who protected his brother by not telling those who had taken Felipe from his grandmother’s house where his brother could be found. Because of that he was brutally murdered with 17 bullets to match his age.

Venezuela_nuvolettaWe’re in one of the quarters outside Valencia. I’m surprised by the queue for buying gas tanks. Twelve year-old Angel, candid as an angel, confides with disarming simplicity: ‘I don’t grow because I never drink milk.’ Even powdered milk is a luxury item in this country. I’m left impressed by the lively, simple gazes of the little ones I have met.

An evening with the youth. You can feel their strong and palpable desire for redemption. Their experiences strengthen their desire to be carriers of hope, beginning with their friends at school, at work….

La Nuvoletta. A minibus takes us up to the Mariapolis Centre called La Nuvoletta. On the way we pass through some poverty-stricken areas. Here too, we find long queues of people hoping to be able to buy at least something. Gabriel thanks me for the lunch I offered him. ‘You know, I only eat pasta on Sunday.’ ‘And the other days?’ I ask. ‘On the other days, only sopa.’ I ask him if he likes being with people. “Yes,” he tells me, “because here everybody’s happy.”

Venezuela_07At the departure time, another bombshell: I learn that Fabián, such an innocent and lively child, had lost his father a few months earlier, murded by assassins. It felt like I was reliving my own experience: the illness and death of my father, which led me back to God. We look at each other and seem to understand one another.

We arrive in Maracaibo, the hottest city in Venezuela. We look around and travel the 8 or more kilometres across the bridge that connects Maracaibo to San Francisco.

A day with the Young For Unity awaits us in Tamale. Hearing a thirteen-year-old say: “I encouraged my mother to forgive those who had killed my father,” cannot leave you indifferent.   

The next appointment was in a parish. They greeted us with songs and then the dicusssion began: ‘What do you do when a kid tells you that he doesn’t go home because there’s nothing to eat?’ I try to respond by talking about the suffering and silence on the part of God that Jesus felt on the Cross.

We say goodbye with a thought that one of the boys shared with everyone: ‘The strength of love is stronger than suffering’.” (A. S.)

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