".... Venezuela, an overwhelmingly [Roman] Catholic country rocked by crime, corruption and an economy hard hit ..... "
"The Caracas newspaper, El Globo, said in the 11 years since the pope's last visit, the country's poverty rate has doubled to 60 percent, the number of serious crimes has doubled and hyperinflation has sent real wages tumbling."
From ........... National Catholic Reporter
February 23, 1996
JOHN PAUL CALLS FOR 'ECONOMY OF PARTICIPATION' IN VENEZUELA
By CINDY WOODEN Catholic News Service
CARACAS, Venezuela - Inmates at Venezuela's most notorious prison and the country's top political and business leaders got the same message from Pope John Paul II: Change your lives and respect human dignity.
The pope ended a weeklong visit to Latin America with a Feb. 9-11 stop in Venezuela, an overwhelmingly Catholic country rocked by crime, corruption and an economy hard hit by fallen oil prices.
"Open your hearts. Accept the challenge of conversion," the pope said at the Reten di Catia prison, a whitewashed building constructed 35 years ago to hold 700 prisoners, which now holds more than 2,000 men and women.
Richard Padron, a 23 year-old who was among the 147 inmates released before finishing their sentences in honor of the papal visit, gave Pope John Paul a book filled with prisoners' descriptions of the jail. The pope did not go inside the facility, which is known as "hell" because of its degrading conditions with rodents and open sewers and the prevalence of weapons and drugs among the inmates.
Speaking from a highway overpass across the street, the pope called on the government to institute its promised prison reforms.
The Caracas newspaper, El Globo, said in the 11 years since the pope's last visit, the country's poverty rate has doubled to 60 percent, the number of serious crimes has doubled and hyperinflation has sent real wages tumbling. The military has attempted two coups in the past 11 years, and two of the three presidents in office during that period have been indicted for corruption.
"One should not forget that the process of material impoverishment often brings about moral and spiritual impoverishment," leading to growing crime, family breakup and an increasing number of street children, the pope said.
In Venezuela today, he said, there is a
"grave crisis because of the absence of values in the fields of ethics, justice, social life and respect for the life and dignity of the human person."
The pope called on political, business, labor and cultural leaders to promote social solidarity and "an economy of participation" that would include all Venezuelans.
During his seven-day trip to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the pope gave 22 speeches or homilies in six cities. At times the 75-year-old pope looked weary, stiff or shaky, but a Vatican spokesman explained away rumors of bad health, citing misinformation and some journalists' inexperience.
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