The following reflections are answers to a questionnaire sent to our brothers of the Vincentian Family in Venezuela; members of various branches that make up our family. They show us the reality in various sectors of the country where we have a presence through their apostolic service.
How is the Vincentian Family facing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela?
We are living it like all Venezuelans, since almost all the members of the Venezuelan Vincentian Family live in areas of middle or poor background. And the crisis affects us strongly.
On the economic side: Galloping inflation has totally reduced our salaries, as well as the purchasing power of Venezuelans (including the Vincentians, who, from their poverty, continue to help the most needy). The Venezuelans work miracles to feed their families, since the monthly salary they receive is $4 (the lowest in Latin America). As Vincentian Family, we are there to accompany the poor, not only in a material way with the few resources we have, but also in a spiritual way (living with them, hoping that things will change soon; as the Social Doctrine of the Church tells us, working for the common good for all).
In this humanitarian crisis, the Vincentians have also had to serve as peacemakers between Venezuelans who argue and fight in our streets or communities (rural and urban) for getting regulated food or medicines, domestic gas, drinking water at low prices, or any basic need, to the point where their living conditions threaten the basic dignity of the citizens. For example, we have to dialogue and mediate with people who fight to take the trash or waste that other people throw in the garbage containers (that is, rummaging in the garbage), waste that, in many occasions, is used to supply some food to their households.
From the Vincentians’ point of view, we also live this problem and we realize that we have fewer and fewer resources to help our brothers and sisters in need.
Another reality that we are experiencing as a Vincentian Family is that we are running out of personnel for the diaspora (members of all branches of the Vincentian Family are leaving for other countries, especially Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Chile).
What communities are active and developing their work in the country, at this time?
In almost all of our communities where the Vincentian Family exists, in spite of the economic, social and political crisis that the country is experiencing, activities continue at a general level, of course with many difficulties, sometimes due to the lack of electricity or of transportation, but we continue to serve the poor the best we can. In the social and missionary area, due to the many limitations, we can not provide our services as in previous years, due to the great scarcity of food and the very high cost of what we can obtain, just as in the case of medicines and other aids we were giving regularly.
Added to this are the difficulties we have due to the disappearance of some groups from various branches of the Family, in some communities. One of the reasons is the aforementioned: the departure from the country of many members of our communities, who go to other countries seeking to improve their living situation, especially young people between 18 and 35 years old. We also have to deal with the aging or illness of the members of our associations, who have had to withdraw from service to the poor. However, in most of our communities or places where we have a presence as Vincentians, we are offering our best efforts to continue carrying out our work in favor of the most needy.
How is the passion for charity of Saint Vincent de Paul being shown with the refugees and the Venezuelan people?
The passion is still very much alive, since Saint Vincent de Paul had to experience similar problems in his time and, with the help of divine providence and people of good will, he managed to organize charity or service to the poor. This inspires us to see Christ in the most helpless and poor of our communities.
In Venezuela, the Vincentian charism continues in its service with passion, through activities such as: Solidarity Pots, which is bringing ready-made foods every day (lunches and breakfasts in some communities) to families in need, especially the most vulnerable (children, the elderly and the sick); medicines and support for laboratory tests and other medical tests are also offered. All this is done through alliances with private or charitable institutions or with aid received by some Vincentian branches at the international level.
Is the Vincentian Family having problems getting help and resources to the people of the country?
Yes, we have problems, since we have foreign currency exchange controls in the country. Another problem is that some of our Vincentian branches or associations do not have savings accounts in foreign currency, and the resources brought by Vincentians who travel outside of Venezuela have limitations: they can not enter with more than $10,000 (and there is a risk that the officials will take part of the money that you bring, alleging some supposed taxes).
Another problem is the blockage of everything they think might be humanitarian aid, especially aid that comes through some Catholic association, claiming that there is no crisis here.
In short, we have had to be creative when it comes to receiving the help that is coming to us thanks to the support of the International Vincentian Family, to reach the poor effectively.
Is there a peaceful solution to this crisis? Do you keep hoping for it?
The peaceful solution to this crisis involves the renewal of government posts. So far, because of the disastrous economic and social policies, the quality of life of the Venezuelan people has decreased, which has led to very high levels of critical poverty. But we are aware of the difficulties that a peaceful renewal entails. Even so, we trust that dialogue is the way to reach a solution to this situation, especially when there are people imprisoned simply for thinking differently from the government.
Of course, we maintain our hope in finding the solution to the social emergency that the Venezuelan people are experiencing. As believers, we trust that God will enlighten all Venezuelans who work and strive to recover the economy and put natural resources, currently monopolized and greatly diminished by the inefficiency of the leaders, at the service of the people. We trust that all the Venezuelan people, and their leaders, will be able to restore the values of honesty, meritocracy and good manners that have weakened in recent years.
In this sense, the Vincentian Family at a national level strives to contribute its grain of sand to achieve it, from the charism inherited from St. Vincent de Paul and his followers, throughout four centuries of history of service to the impoverished of our world.
Finally, we thank you for your closeness and concern about the humanitarian crisis that Venezuela is experiencing. We are at your service.