Although originally conceived as a new Nowa Huta, reminiscent of the socialist district in Poland famously constructed to be Godless, Ciudad Chavez is now witnessing the inauguration of its first church a decade later. This marks a significant development in one of the over 35 large popular urbanization projects across the country, and notably, it will be the first to have a parish. Bishop Raúl Biord, the Salesian leader of the Diocese of La Guaira since 2014, shared in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), "Christ wasn’t supposed to be present in this neighborhood. That was the idea. Ten years later, Christ will be incarnate and living amongst us."
Quoting Dostoyevsky, Bishop Biord emphasizes, "No man can live without God; if he does not believe in God, he will create an idol to worship." He adds, "The creation of this parish has a deep meaning. You cannot remove religion from the life of the people. Man is not just flesh; he is body and soul. Pure materialism impoverishes humanity."
Despite tensions directed at the Church by the Venezuelan government, Bishop Biord expresses that the decision to support the project was driven by the community's desire for a place of worship. He states, "As a bishop, I am first called to be a shepherd, and I cannot leave 20,000 souls without spiritual nourishment." ACN played a significant role in funding the construction project.
Drawing parallels to the Ark of the Lord in Nowa Huta, a symbol of Polish resistance against Communist tyranny, Bishop Biord acknowledges that the creation of neighborhoods where the Church was not initially welcome does evoke Soviet intentions. However, he distinguishes the story of the parish in Ciudad Chávez, emphasizing the diverse support received. "Faith transcends politics and unites people of very different persuasions," explains the Bishop.
Despite the economic challenges, lack of materials, and potential construction-related problems, Bishop Biord sees the completion of the church in 15 months as a miracle. He stresses, "It has been a miracle of God to be able to include people with such a wide range of opinions."
The new parish church, dedicated to Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero, will also host a diocesan shrine dedicated to the Venezuelan Blessed José Gregorio Hernández, known as the "doctor of the poor." The church will include a soup kitchen and a training center, reflecting the lives of dedication and service of these saints. The bishop believes that fostering a sense of community is crucial in a country like Venezuela, "where there is so much social and community division."
The project in Ciudad Chávez received support from national and regional governments, private benefactors, foundations such as ACN, and the local community, which played a crucial role in its realization. The Bishop expresses gratitude for the intense pastoral activity preceding the church's existence and anticipates the joy of 106 children preparing for First Communion and Confirmation to receive the sacraments in this new space.
In a country facing economic crisis, Bishop Biord explains, "the church, the temple, is a very important place for us Venezuelans. It is a place where the community comes together and meets." He adds, "In a secularized world, such as in the West, this may be difficult to understand, but here we need this place of prayer to nurture faith and hope. Besides, the number of faithful is growing. The people are hungry for God." Looking forward, Bishop Biord humorously notes, "It may seem like a lot, but we still need to build three or four more, and we are counting on your help!"