A mob of supporters of Venezuela’s socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro stormed a Catholic Mass celebrating Holy Week on Wednesday, assaulting Archbishop of Caracas Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, injuring both believers attending the mass and media recording the scuffle, and reportedly looting the church.
The incident took place at Santa Teresa Basilica, following the traditional procession of the Nazarene of St. Paul in the nation’s capital.
El Universal, based in the capital, reports that those attending the Mass identified the individuals storming into the basilica as supporters of Maduro’s, as they attacked individuals who had publicly opposed the head of state.
El Nacional, which usually reports on such violent incidents by government supporters, also identified the mob as such and added the detail that the mob ran up the altar towards the archbishop and shoved him, attempting to beat him.
Urosa Savino was reportedly delivering a sermon calling for freedom from dictatorship in Venezuela as he was attacked.
Among those attending the service were a number of prominent political figures, including former legislator and opposition leader María Corina Machado and the head of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Jorge Alemán. Alemán denied that those attacking the clergy were supporters of his party.
Imágenes que dan la vuelta al mundo: Irrumpen en Basílica Santa Teresa mientras cardenal Urosa oficiaba la misa. pic.twitter.com/MWT5v5AaYc
— chemanuel (@chemanueldiaz) April 12, 2017
No respetan ni la casa d Dios.Nuestra solidaridad con la Iglesia y Cardenal Urosa 12Abr Basílica de Santa Teresa pic.twitter.com/QlWqaOvnXw –
— CARLOS VECCHIO (@carlosvecchio) April 12, 2017
The Pan-American Post adds that the attackers appeared to steal from the church, citing another opposition leader, Antonio Ecarri. At least one journalist, Pedro Eduardo Leal, had his phone stolen while he was filming the attack on Urosa Savino. In a statement on Twitter, he clearly identified the assailants as “chavistas.”
The PSUV leadership has blamed the opposition entirely for the attack. Maduro himself, on national television, referred to the anti-socialist opposition as “the antichrist,” accusing them of “sabotaging and attempting to seize churches.”
Maduro also claimed that the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) were on hand to end the altercation, though eyewitnesses told El Nacional the officers there took no action to protect Urosa Savino.
Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly’s minority leader representing the PSUV, also went on television to attack Urosa Savino, calling him “the Devil” and accusing him of inciting violence.
The far-left regional outlet TeleSUR covered the story with the headline: “Venezuelans Accuse Church Leader of Inciting Violence.” The text of the article notes that TeleSUR journalists “were injured in the scuffle.”
The attack on the Caracas basilica is not a unique occurrence and arrives during the most important Christian holiday for Venezuelans, Holy Week – which includes Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. On Wednesday morning, clergy in the western regional capital San Cristóbal awoke to their churches vandalized with death threats. One wall of the San Cristóbal Cathedral had the words, “Death to priests – PSUV,” sprayed on it.
— Omaira Labrador M. (@omairalabradorm) April 12, 2017
“The priests of our Diocese of San Cristóbal do not fret or feel intimidated by these immoral threats,” Moronta said in a statement. “On the contrary, it is a new opportunity to reaffirm the configuration of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.”
Urosa Savino, as the chief Catholic authority in the country, however, has attracted the most individual negative attention from socialist supporters. The archbishop has condemned the government for its previous acts against his religion, including the rewording of a Christmas carol to honor socialist ration brigades and the government’s release of a new Lord’s Prayer that begins, “Our Chávez, who art in Heaven.” Of the latter, Urosa Sabivo said it was an act of “idolatry.”
Urosa Savino stated this week that the government must act to curb the violence of chavista gangs, which have served for years to intimidate, injure, and kill protesters seeking regime change. “The government cannot continue to abet these armed groups that, without a doubt, have no authority, because the use of force is reserved for State officers,” he said.
The archbishop had also asserted that “protesting is a human right that should be respected and is guaranteed by the constitution” and called the use of tear gas against protesters “abominable.”