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Church leaders work to buoy members' spirits

Strife in Venezuela causing political divisiveness

People wait in line in their cars to fill up gas tanks with gasoline in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2003.  Petroleum prices on the world market rose Tuesday as international mediators struggled to resolve a weeks-old strike against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that has disabled the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.(AP Photo/Jaime Puebla)
People wait in line in their cars to fill up gas tanks with gasoline in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2003. Petroleum prices on the world market rose Tuesday as international mediators struggled to resolve a weeks-old strike against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that has disabled the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.(AP Photo/Jaime Puebla) Photo: AP

Church leaders in Venezuela's capital city are working hard to maintain unity within their congregations while political divisiveness rages outside the walls of their chapels.

An ongoing battle over leadership and support inside the Venezuelan government has prompted a volatile, sometimes violent rift among residents of Caracas and outlying communities. Caracans are enduring a general strike that has stretched over eight weeks, stunted petroleum production in the oil-rich nation, bruised the economy and brought about shortages of food and other necessities.

Bishops, branch presidents and stake presidents are doing what they can to buoy the members' spirits while asking for gospel unity among those split by political opinion.

"Our people are doing well, the missionaries are doing well," said Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Seventy and president of the South American North Area.

"We can't let differences in political opinion divide us," said David Simons, who presides over the Campo Alegre Ward, Venezuela Caracas Stake.

It's been a difficult task. Bishop Simons says many of his members have deep-rooted feelings about Venezuela's ongoing political struggle. Such emotions are intensified by those who have lost jobs and are worried about providing their families with life's basic needs.

"We have tried to focus on Christ and His teachings," he added.

Urdaneta Venezuela Stake President Jorge Ruiz said he has heard reports of members in his stake talking politics during Church meetings. In response, President Ruiz has asked members of the high council to encourage the members to avoid such secular talk in Church and focus on the unifying lessons of gospel principles.

"We have talked about ways to become closer to God and feel peace inside [the Church], even when there is no peace outside," he said.

People walk past a fish stand at a market in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2003. The general strike, called on Dec. 2 by opposition groups to force President Hugo Chavez from office, has caused severe food and fuel shortages throughout this oil-rich yet poverty-stricken South American country of 24 million. (AP Photo/Jaime Puebla)
People walk past a fish stand at a market in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2003. The general strike, called on Dec. 2 by opposition groups to force President Hugo Chavez from office, has caused severe food and fuel shortages throughout this oil-rich yet poverty-stricken South American country of 24 million. (AP Photo/Jaime Puebla) Photo: AP

President Ruiz added he has also counseled his congregations to remember the stories of the early Nauvoo saints who endured tribulations and were ultimately blessed because of the faith and obedience to the gospel.

Sunday meetings were canceled at some Church buildings in the first week of the strike, but schedules are now returning to normal. The Caracas Venezuela Temple remains open. Still, schools have been closed for the past eight weeks, banks are often open for only a few hours a day, "and people have to go to the store at 4 a.m. to buy things as soon as the shelves are restocked," President Ruiz said.

Church leaders such as President Ruiz are encouraging the members to place themselves in positions to receive blessings by paying their tithing and remaining obedient to gospel teachings such as food storage and emergency preparedness.

Despite the political troubles "we are baptizing in Venezuela more than ever," Elder Costa said.

"We're trying to get ready for the future," added Bishop Cesar Romero, Caurimare Ward, Venezuela Caracas Palo Verde Stake.

Bishop Romero is hoping to further unity by organizing emergency groups charged with helping the needy in his ward.

One day these political troubles will pass, Bishop Simons said. Until then the Venezuelan members must remain brothers and sisters in the gospel.

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