Like any other country, Venezuela has its poorer and more affluent regions. While the people living in the capital city of Caracas are doing fairly well in spite of the current economic crisis, the situation in rural areas is at times disastrous. The work of Father Angel Orellana illustrates how the Church helps those struggling in a poor area of the country. Father Angel serves in the parish of San Javier, in the Diocese of San Felipe.
Father Angel’s parish house is spacious. However, the building is old and in urgent need of renovation. But that is the least of the priest’s worries. A greater concern is the sporadic water and power supply. There are large washtubs filled with water in bathrooms throughout the country, to be used when the water supply is cut off. More affluent Venezuelans and high-end restaurants use diesel generators to meet their needs during frequent hour-long power outages.
The parish of San Javier was founded in 1778 and covers a very large area. The small village of Guarataro is a community in the parish territory. Father Angel is able to reach the village in just under an hour by bus or by hitchhiking along a route that takes him through forest and steppes. He celebrates Mass once a week in a small wooden chapel in Guarataro.
The children are always very happy to see him. As soon as he makes his way to the chapel, children come running from all directions. Many of the children are undernourished and look three or four years younger than they actually are. The Church is one of the few institutions that looks after the welfare of the residents of Guarataro. The village does not have a police station and there is no doctor.
At times, conditions have proved fatal. When a woman recently got very sick during the night, no doctor or ambulance driver was willing to come to Guarataro. As the villagers are very poor, none of them own a vehicle. No one came to help the woman; she did not survive the night.
These are the circumstances in which Father Angel serves as a priest. As he himself acknowledges, his presence in Guarataro is nothing more than a drop in the bucket. He says: “It is difficult to preach about the love of God to people when, day in and day out, they experience only ignorance and scorn. All the same, they know that neither I nor the Church are indifferent to them.”
The youthful-looking priest humbly accepts his own fate. He does not complain about his living and working conditions, which are not easy in this region, especially at this time. He is too good-natured for that and he has too much faith in God, in the conviction that God will move everything in the right direction.
He is grateful to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for the monthly Mass stipends he receives. These are distributed by the Bishop, Víctor Hugo Basabe of San Felipe to all of the priests in the diocese. Mass stipends are Father Angel’s only income. This is a great help to him in his daily life because he serves in a poor parish and, at best, he only occasionally receives food as a thank you from his parishioners. This food is also used as compensation for those who assist Father Angel in his pastoral work, because they prefer to be paid in kind instead of with money. Because of the country’s extremely high inflation rate, Venezuela’s currency is losing more value every day. That is why many people choose bartering with goods as a much more practical form of payment in day-to-day life.
Father Angel’s daily life is truly challenging, but, with a charming smile, he affirms that “everything is only half as hard if you know that God is with you.”