by Raymond Syms
The Bishop of the Diocese of Carupano – geographically the closest Venezuelan diocese to the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, has thanked the Trinidad & Tobago Government and the local Church for assisting migrants escaping the crisis in the South American nation.
Bishop Jaime José Villarroel Rodríguez expressed appreciation during his four-day (August 22–25) pastoral visit to Trinidad last weekend. He visited the recently-opened St Therese Center for Education and Training, a space catering to Venezuelan migrants set up by the Living Water Community (LWC) on Friday August 23. Later that day, the Bishop held separate meetings with representatives of the United Nations, the United States Embassy, and the Counter Trafficking Unit, Ministry of National Security.
On Saturday he journeyed to the Southern parishes of La Romaine, Penal and San Fernando to speak with migrants in those communities. Bishop Rodríguez later concelebrated a bilingual Mass at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help RC Church, San Fernando.
Before departing Sunday, he concelebrated Mass at the LWC Chapel, Port of Spain and blessed a residence for migrants in Santa Cruz.
Bishop Rodríguez was interviewed on Friday at the LWC-owned Trinity TV by some local media houses. Here is what the bishop had to say through interpreter Michelle Watkins.
On the crisis in his homeland: “The crisis has been going on for 15 years. There is hyperinflation (1 million percent inflation), a lack of productivity, the basic wage for one month is US$3, and the Public Service has been destroyed. Because of this people have very little hope and leave their families, leave their country to survive the situation.”
The T&T government’s recent migrant registration process: “It has helped migrants because they can work legally here for a year and make use of some of the basic services. We are very grateful to the government for having opened that registration process to help those migrants here right now, and who also can help this country.”
The treatment of Venezuelan migrants: The bishop was satisfied by the treatment but more can be done. “I think the government did not expect the amount coming here, in the first place, and this has created a problem for the community here. Certainly the government has tried to help, but we also understand solutions don’t come from one day to the next.” The relationship (between the two countries) goes back many years, even centuries, he noted.
Human trafficking: “It has affected our country a lot. According to international organisations, 190,000 Venezuelan migrants have being enslaved through forced labour, prostitution and other forms of slavery. It is affecting families. Governments should get together to stop it happening.” He said cases of exploitation had been recorded as far as Mexico.
The breakdown of family life: “There are many broken families as more and more children are being left alone with no parents. Children remain in the streets without food, or education and at the mercy of the delinquent groups (gangs).”
“Parents don’t have money to buy a pair of shoes for their children to go to school and parents are preoccupied with the question ‘What am I going to give my child to eat today.’ The only meal some may eat is rice or vegetables, because it is impossible to buy meat because of the cost and people do not have the economic resources.”
The health-care system: “Last year 20,000 newborns died, because there’s no medical attention for mothers in hospitals. Last year it was reported there were one million cases of malaria.”
How has the Venezuelan Catholic Church been assisting?: “The Catholic Church is giving everything to help the people through its different organisations like Caritas (Internationalis) and other apostolic groups. The Church feeds many people that come to them. Churches have kitchens. To feed an old person or a child (a day) costs US$1. Many of the remaining doctors volunteer to help people. They help with medicine because no one can afford a box of antibiotics. Malnourished children (from babies to five years) get the nutrition they need. The Church also offers catechesis and vocational training.”
Support from other South American bishops: “We in the Church in Venezuela have to thank the bishops of different countries. They have pledged to help the Venezuelans who have migrated to their countries. They have opened schools and hostels and other places to stay. I thank Archbishop Gordon and the Church here for their help.”
A final message to migrants: Bishop Rodríguez invites them to pray. “That will sustain us during these difficult times. It is very important to stay close to our Church at this time because she is our mother. I invite them not to lose hope, that Venezuela will come out of these difficult times and there will be a great reuniting of our country. We are working to plant a new seed. Personally, I will not be discouraged by the problems because I am helped by God’s grace. He is helping us to face all these difficulties.”
A question on educating migrant children was put to Archbishop Jason Gordon who was present during the interview. He said the Church will be utilising the St Therese Center, and available existing spaces. There are proposals to use Catholic schools after regular school hours, and integrate migrant children comfortable speaking English into the school system. A mobile phone application has been developed to register migrant children. The Church is continuing to dialogue with the Ministry of Education on these matters.