The Diocese of Venezuela jubilantly welcomed in recent days -- July 15-17, 2011 -- the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Province IX official, the Rt. Rev. Wilfrido Ramos-Orench. It is the first visit of a presiding bishop to the Venezuelan diocese since that of the Most Rev. John Maury Allin in the 1980s, as well as the first one since its full incorporation to the Episcopal Church in August 2003. The members of the Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Venezuela awaited this encounter with much hope and expectation.
On Friday, July 15th, the first day of her stay, and after being greeted by the Rt. Rev. Orlando Guerrero, diocesan bishop of Venezuela, the presiding bishop had the opportunity to exchange impressions with a varied representation of the Venezuelan Church. First of all, the presiding bishop and Bishop Guerrero discussed diocesan matters, current national affairs and their desire to strengthen the diocesan partnership between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Venezuela.
Bishop Guerrero then excused himself from the gathering, not before introducing the Venezuela clergy to the Presiding Bishop and to Bishop Ramos and leaving the meeting in good hands amidst an atmosphere of intimacy, sincerity and open dialogue where the Venezuelan clergy was able to share its projects, its progress and the challenges it faces. During her meeting with the multicultural and multi-ethnic Venezuelan clergy, Bishop Jefferts Schori listened to testimonies about their ministries (parishes) among diverse congregations and populations under their care in the vast Venezuelan territory.
At all times, the presiding bishop showed a profound interest in each and every case. She also gave ideas and recommendations vis a vis practical and forward-looking solutions to the clergy, which was constituted by Venezuelan nationals, one Native American priest of Arawak ethnicity, and a deacon from the Haitian-Venezuelan community. We surely can mention herein the presiding bishop's wise suggestion about the necessity of a religious order for supporting the pastoral work, as well as her wish to help establish a relationship between the Native American/Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church and the Native Arawak community of the Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Venezuela.
This fruitful experience was followed by meetings with youth and women Episcopal leaders from the diocese. These gatherings were characterized by emotion and closeness. The Primate gave wise and encouraging words of advice for the youth. Bishop Jefferts Schori urged them to hold more frequent youth events, although she acknowledged the geographic difficulties they described as the hardest challenge to the strengthening of this important diocesan group. The women diocesan leaders, in turn, were much encouraged, especially by the significance of having a woman bishop as leader of an entire Provincial Church, who knew how to win their hearts and admiration.
On Saturday, the bishops, together with part of the clergy and several laymen, joined in a visit to the Haitian-Venezuelan community that lives in the densely populated shantytown of Los Magallanes de Catia, in Western Caracas. After they made their way through the sinuous, sloped and narrow streets filled with people and street markets, the party reached a small and fragile chapel where Haitian immigrants and locals crowd to worship God. In this makeshift House of God, the presiding bishop had the opportunity to join the joyful and always hopeful francophone singing of this congregation, as well as pray with them the Notre Père, the Our Father.
After a delightful break for refreshments and watching the presiding bishop mingle with the boys and girls of the mission, the party left for the West-Central region of the country to visit a congregation two hours away from the Haitian-Venezuelan mission. In the short visit to the Saint Michael the Archangel Mission, a space known also to the community as “Rincón Puerto Rico Community Center,” the presiding bishop had the opportunity to learn about the significant social work project that is underway there. During her tour of the facilities, Bishop Jefferts Schori stated her interest in establishing a permanent Episcopal missionary presence in the area that can support the work of the local priest in charge.
Back at the Diocesan Center, the presiding bishop was hosted later that evening by the Caracas Council of Historic Churches. Bishop Jefferts Schori fraternized with other Venezuelan churches and learnt of their experiences in the everyday affairs of Caracas ecumenical life. Next day, on the morning of Sunday, July 17th, the presiding bishop concelebrated the Holy Eucharist at Reconciliation (La Reconciliación) Pro-Cathedral with Venezuelan bishops and priests and together with the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Venezuela. The reading of the Word was accompanied by a wise and pertinent homily where the presiding bishop urged the Venezuelan Church to remain united and hopeful, and to keep up their struggle amidst a changing world. The visit of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church to the Diocese of Venezuela left behind a more encouraged and committed church. We can say for sure that the expectations regarding her visit were surpassed by the experience of seeing her, listening to her and sharing with her meaningful moments of communion and friendship.