People stand to receive food aid distributed by the "G10 das Favelas," a group of slum entrepreneurs, during the COVID-19 pandemic in São Paulo. CNS photo/Carla Carniel, Reuters

Luke Stocking: Church’s role goes beyond providing aid

By 
  • June 27, 2021

I was recently inspired by Venezuelan goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez. My jaw dropped as he saved shot after shot in a 0-0 draw against heavily favoured Colombia in the COPA America football tournament, currently being played in Brazil.

It was a particularly heroic effort as the team has been wracked by COVID-19 with many of its players put out of action. The resilience the team showed in the match made me think of the resilience of the Venezuelan people who are subject to the worst refugee crisis in the world after Syria.

Refugee Isabel Bolivar says, “I never imagined that so many people would be leaving the country, and that I’d see my children stop playing, stop drawing and start saying: ‘Mommy, we ran out of flour. Mommy, we ran out of rice. Mommy, the aid package is coming.’ My children went an entire day, 24 hours, without eating. For me, as a mother, it wasn’t easy.”

There are more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled a country in crisis. I heard Isabel’s testimony on a Spotify playlist called #together4venezuelans. The playlist came to my attention during an online event we hosted the same day as the football game. Solidarity and Fraternity in Action was a side event to the international donors’ conference that Canada recently hosted to raise funds to respond to the Venezuelan crisis.

Over 130 people gathered online to hear about the work the Church has done since 2015 to respond to the crisis. 

Last year, in partnership with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, we spent half a million dollars in a country wracked by hyperinflation to assist some of its most impoverished people. The six-month project, carried out by our Caritas Network in Caracas Districts and the states of Carabobio, Miranda, Vargas and Zulia, provided cash transfers to 3,640 people from 910 households. These transfers helped them meet their basic food needs. In 2017-18 we supported a project serving 18,370 people in vulnerable communities.

Now our efforts have become more focused on the refugees themselves. In April we began a 12-month project with Caritas Colombia focused on the needs of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia.

The work of our networks for Venezuelan migrants and refugees can be summarized in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. 

It is easier to talk about the humanitarian aid needs caused by the crisis than it is to talk about the root causes of the crisis itself. This is because doing so requires one to enter a discussion of global politics; western foreign policy towards leftist Latin American governments, petrostate economics, contested elections, so on and so on. There is not enough room in this column to do the subject justice.

What can be said, though, is this: The narrative is never as simple as those with political and economic interests in a crisis try to make it — whether they be individuals, governments, corporations or even civil society itself. We should be suspicious of anyone offering simple explanations, such as “everything will be fine if the current Maduro government will just give up power,” or, “the crisis is the sole fault of western intervention.”

The truth is always more complicated and it is innocent people, like Isabel, who suffer under the polemics that prevent us from reaching solutions. While root causes are complicated and involve global politics, they must absolutely be addressed.

As the Church we need to not only stand beside the migrants and provide for their immediate needs. We must also present our own analysis of the root causes of their displacement. We must draw on the social teachings of our faith to prepare that analysis and to propose solutions that are consistent with human dignity. We must, because it is only in this way that refugees like Isabel can have what they really want.

As she says, “I would like to go back home to my country. To be there with my children, so that they can go to school and live their lives and have a childhood like the one I had.”

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions for Development and Peace.)

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