A republic formed out of the provinces which, under Spanish rule, constituted the captaincy general of the same name
Venezuela, a republic formed out of the provinces which, under Spanish rule, constituted the captaincy general of the same name. This republic has an area of 280,918 square miles, lying between the meridians of 62° and 73° W. longitude, and between 1° 8′ and 12° 16′ N. latitude. Its surface is distributed as follows: mountain ranges, 92,913 square miles; table lands, 1591 square miles; plains, 228,993 square miles; lakes, 7509 square miles; lands liable to inundation, 24,544 square miles; the remainder being swamps, uninhabitable paramos, and small islands. It is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, where it has a coastline of 898 miles; south, by the Republic of Brazil, from which it is separated by the great Parima range; east, by the Atlantic Ocean and British Guiana; west, by the Republic of Colombia. Without including the rivers that rise in Colombia, there are 1047 rivers in Venezuela, the principal being the Orinoco, which rises in the forest regions and by means of the Casiquiare branch unites with the Rio Negro, which, again, flows into the Amazon; it then flows north and afterwards east, and discharges by means of eighty mouths into the Atlantic ocean, after a course of 1323 miles. The other rivers are the Apure, Meta, Cuyuni, Qua-rare, Arauca, Quarico, Cuara, Puruni. There are also two lakes, the Maracaibo and the Valencia; 204 lagoons, among which are the Tacarigua, the Sinamaica and the Guasaconica; three principal gulfs, the Maracaibo, the Triste, and the Paria. The highest mountain peaks are the Sierra Nevada, 16,437 ft.; Naiguata, 10,500 ft.; Maraguata, 9000 ft. There are no volcanoes, but some thermal springs, the most famous being those of Trincheras in Carabobo, Cuiva in Coro, and Guarume in the Guarico.
CLIMATE AND NATURAL RESOURCES.—Venezuela is divided into three well-defined zones: first, the mountainous, formed by a direct arm of the Andes penetrating through Tachira and Trujillo, and running along the sea coast to the peninsula of Paria; secondly, the zone of the plains which extend to the banks of the Orinoco; thirdly, the forest region, which extends from the right bank of the Orinoco to the Brazilian boundary line. In the first of these zones all varieties of climate are to be found, from the cold of the Sierra Nevada of Merida, to the genial warmth of the foot-hills; and, excepting the coast, which is warm and unhealthy, the remainder, which forms a great agricultural belt, is both salubrious and fertile. In the plains, where the climate is warm, pastures abound, and all kinds of live stock are raised, cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, horses, mules, asses. In this zone may also be seen large stretches of plain covered with a luxuriant growth of wild flowers, and alive with flocks of numberless birds of the most marvelously variegated plumage. In the forest zones all kinds of timber and dye woods, medicinal plants, etc. are to be found, and also enormous birds, crocodiles, and boas. The climate here is, for the most part, warm and unhealthy. Mammals abound, chiefly monkeys, bears, jaguars, panthers, ocelots, pumas, water dogs, and manatees.
The annual mean temperature of some of the principal cities is: Caracas, 66° 43′; Valencia, 80°; Maracaibo, 86° 20′; Barquisemeto, 77° 54′; Ciudad Bolivar, 86° 40′; Merida, 64° 36′ Fahrenheit. The country has extensive mineral products, copper in Aroa, gold in Guiana, hard coal in Coro, Barcelona, and Maracaibo, mene in Cumand, saline deposits along the coast of Barcelona, Carabobo, Mayarita, and Maracaibo, and large quantities of asphalt in Barcelona and Maracaibo. The principal agricultural products are coffee, cocoa, and sugar-cane, besides a great abundance and variety of fruits. Cattle-raising is extensively carried on in the plains. The population, at the census of 1911, was 2,713,703; that of the capital, Caracas, 72,429.
COMMERCE AND INDUSTRIES.—AS the most important product of exportation has always been coffee, and the market price of this has been so low during recent years, the economic situation of the country has suffered. To this other causes, especially political, have also contributed. The official computation for the year 1910 gave the amount of exports as 64,184,206.63 bolivars ($12,387,552 or £2,477,510). Among the exports of Venezuela are: cotton, starch, hemp sandals, asphalt, cocoa, coffee, rubber, copper, coco-nut, copaiba, cinchona, horn, hides, divi-divi, fresh fruits, cabinet woods, gold, feathers, sarsaparilla, tobacco in leaf. In manufactures Venezuela is still backward, but a movement in this direction is progressing. Some establishments, such as the weaving mills of Caracas and Valencia, and the oil factory of Valencia, have been very successful, and other such enterprises are in contemplation. There are twelve lines of railroad. Their income in 1910 from passenger traffic was 1,653,488.04 bolivars ($319,124 or £63,825) and from all sources 9,239,363.32 bolivars ($1,783,197 or £356,620).
CIVIL HISTORY.—The coast of Venezuela was discovered by Christopher Columbus during his third voyage, on August 1, 1498. Its name, meaning “Little Venice“, was given it by reason of the fact that Alonso de Ojeda, who first explored the coast, in 1499, found a small aboriginal village built on piles in one of the gulfs to the west. Modified into Venezuela, the name afterwards served to designate the whole territory of the captaincy general (cf. Felipe Fejera, “Manual de Historia de Venezuela”). The Spanish conquest was complete in the year 1600. Since then there has existed in Venezuela a regularly organized society with peculiar ethnic characteristics and a self-developed culture. The colony was under the administration of governors and captains general during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first decisive step towards political emancipation taken by the country was the Conspiracy of April 19, 1810, by means of which it was wrested from the control of the captain general, Vicente Emparan. The definitive Declaration of Independence was issued by the Congress July 5, 1811. This Declaration contains the following confession of faith: “Taking the Supreme Being as witness to the justice of our actions and the rectitude of our intentions; imploring His Divine and heavenly aid, and protesting before Him, in the moment of our birth to that dignity which His Providence restores to us, our desire to live and die free; believing and maintaining the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Religion of Jesus Christ as the first of our duties..” The War of Independence ended with the battle of Carabobo, won by the Liberator Simon Bolivar, June 24, 1821. When the Republic of Colombia, formed by Bolivar out of the States of Nueva Granada, Ecuador, and Venezuela, was dismembered, the last-named of these three states became the Republic of Venezuela, in 1830.
Since that date the development of the country has been retarded by internecine struggles, which, however, have not entirely impeded all advance towards culture and material progress. In the early days of independence, General Jose Antonio Paez, the hero of the War of Independence, was prominent in political affairs, aided by Dr. Jose Maria Varjas and Gen. Carlos Toublette. Following this, for a period of ten years, the country wavered between content and discontent under the rule of the brothers Jose Tadeo and Jose Gregorio Monagas, also celebrated leaders in the War of Independence. To Jose Gregorio Monagas is due the abolition of Slavery. The Monagas were overthrown in 1858, after which began the bloody and disastrous rule of the Federacion, lasting five years, and terminating in the triumph of the Federal cause and the elevation of Juan Crisostomo Falcon to the supreme power. His rule was characterized by administrative inefficiency and a state of turmoil lasting until 1868. After a precarious regime, known as El Gobierno Azul, which consisted in a fusion of the parties, Guzman Blanco came into power in 1870. During his term of office, a period of twenty years, strife and bloodshed continued, and Venezuela suffered from a despotism such as she had not known up to this time. Intellectually gifted and possessed of great energy, he availed himself of a spectacular political policy and, carefully measuring the elements with which he had to deal, was able to dominate persons and events completely. He would have been able to direct his country into safer paths and to have established her once for all in the foremost ranks of the truly progressive nations, had not his desire for personal aggrandizement so led him astray that he discarded all the established methods of civilization, concealed internal decay under a show of material progress, and laid the foundations of that political venality which has ever since so seriously retarded the progress of the republic. Rojas Paiil and Andueza Palacio followed him, and would have been able to establish peace and advance the welfare of the nation had not political ambition once more asserted itself, bringing with it revolution and military ascendency. The last of these governments by bloodshed was that of Cipriano Castro, which lasted nine years and ended in December, 1908. With the celebration of the first centenary of its independence the entire nation demanded peace; the government then proclaimed, and has since endeavored to procure, the establishment of law and order.
The United States of Venezuela is now composed of twenty federal states and a federal district, the seat of the national government, the capital of which is Caracas. Outside the limits of the Federal District the president had no executive authority except in such cases as are provided for by the constitution. The supreme executive power is vested in the president, assisted by the cabinet ministers and the Council of State. The legislative body consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives which meet in ordinary sessions once a year and may be convoked for extra sessions by the president. The judicial power is represented by the Federal Court and the Court of Cassation, whose members are elected by Congress from candidates presented by the various States. There are lesser tribunals to meet various needs. The political organization in the several states is similar to that of the national government. The president of the Council of State fills the office of vice-president for the republic or the state. The president is elected for a term of four years.
EDUCATION.—Though internal disturbances in Venezuela have not altogether impeded the advance of civilization, they have somewhat retarded it. Education, however, never completely neglected, has acquired new vigor and extension. Guzman Blanco issued a decree to extend it throughout the whole country, and although this has not been very effective, owing to the poor organization of the school system, it cannot be denied that much good has resulted. The total number of students in the primary grade in the entire republic for the third quarterly session in 1909 was 48,869, of which only 5799 attended private schools, the remainder attending the national schools, federal and municipal. In the secondary schools there were 3565 students, 1343 of whom attended private schools. In the fourth quarterly session of 1910 there were 50,991 students registered for the primary schools. Nevertheless, attention having been concentrated upon the principal cities and towns of importance, the interior of the republic has remained in a state of illiteracy. At present the Government is endeavoring to give a more efficient organization to the educational system, both by providing suitable buildings and increasing the number of students, as in supervising the management of the schools, and finding the best means for extending their usefulness. The Government also takes an equal interest in the secondary schools, both those maintained at government expense and the many and excellent private schools which exist throughout the country. In July, 1909, one hundred and two such schools were registered, sixty-three of these being private schools. In these schools the courses are literary, mercantile, and philosophic. For the higher branches there are two universities, a school of engineers, and the episcopal seminaries. There are eight schools for the fine arts, and fourteen manual training schools. The average of education is not low among the Venezuelans; they are naturally intelligent and assimilate knowledge readily. The one drawback is a lax system in the various courses. Medical science, in its various branches, has many representatives who stand high in their profession; judges and lawyers of high reputation represent the law; in belles-lettres Venezuelan writers have produced works that bear comparison with the best product of the other Spanish-speaking nations, and in the fine arts, such painters as Tovar y Tovar, Arturo Michilena, and Cristobal Rojas have produced works of which their country is justly proud. The Press in Venezuela has considerable merit: it is unfortunate that the influence of modern anti-religious ideas, for which no antidote is provided, should tinge with unbelief otherwise creditable work; notwithstanding this, it cannot be generally said that the Venezuelans are irreligious.
RELIGIOUS HISTORY.—The religion of Venezuela has always been the Catholic Faith. Missionary work was very efficaciously done in the early days: the Capuchins, in particular, carried that work very far forward, and many of the settlements of Venezuela were founded by them and reached a high degree of prosperity under their direction. Nevertheless, there have been undeniable shortcomings in public morality, due to the interference of extrinsic causes. One of the greatest glories of the religious orders and of the Spanish nation is the record of their unselfish devotion to the social redemption of the American races. The religious always defended the aborigines against their cruel assailants, being the first to claim for them the rights of humanity, and the kings of Spain fostered these humane and Christian views, promulgating a great body of laws—the leyes de las Indias—which will always be a monument of the noble principles which inspired those monarchs in their dealings with the aborigines. The Franciscans and Dominicans had the chief part in this civilizing work. In Venezuela they exercised their ministry with fruitful results; and when the conquest was completed, they still continued their mission with the greatest zeal. According to Dr. Francisco Gonzalez Guzman in his “Historia Contemporanea de Venezuela”, vol. II, pp. 34, 35:
“Before 1830 there were forty convents in Venezuela: at Caracas, those of San Francisco, San Jacinto, San Felipe, the Mercedes, and the Capuchins; at Barcelona, of San Francisco; at Pivitu, of San Francisco; at Barquisimeto, of San Francisco; at Focuyo, of San Francisco and of San Domingo; at Carora, of San Francisco; at Valencia, of San Francisco; at Cumana, of San Francisco and of San Domingo; at Cumanacoa, of San Francisco; on the Gulf of Santa Fe, that of San Domingo; at Cabruta, the Jesuits; at Angostura (Ciudad Bolivar), the Jesuits; at San Francisco, that of the same name; at Caripe, of San Francisco; at Merida, San Domingo, San Agustin, and Candelaria; at Asuncion, of San Francisco and of Santo Domingo; at Guanare, of San Francisco; at San Cristobal, of San Agustin; at Trujillo, of San Francisco and of San Domingo; at Guasipati, of San Francisco; at Upata, of San Francisco; at Caruachi, of San Francisco; at Gury, of San Francisco; at Tupuquen, of San Francisco; at Santa Maria, of San Francisco; at Maracaibo, of San Felipe and the Jesuits.
“About the year 1830 there were in Venezuela the following communities of nuns: at Caracas, that of the Concepciones, founded in 1617 by Dona Juana Vjllela and her daughters, Spanish ladies, and authorized by the King of Spain, March 23, 1619; that of the Discalced Carmelites of Santa Teresa, founded by Dona Josefa Melchora de Ponte y Aguirre, Dona Mejias, and Don Miguel de Ponte, authorized by royal warrant of October 1, 1725, the building begun in 1726 and opened May 19, 1732; and the Dominicanesses, established in 1817. The convent of the Dominican nuns at Trujillo was begun in 1599 and opened in 1617. That of the Clarissas of Merida was founded in 1651 by Don Juan de Bedoya. The Beaterio of Valencia was founded by the Revs. Juan Jose Rodriguez Felipe, Dr. Carlos Hernandez de Monagas, and Dr. Juan Antonio Hernandez de Monagas. The first idea of these charitable priests was to establish a college for the education of young girls, and this object was contemplated in the authorization given by Archbishop Francisco de Ibarra, January 28, 1806. Dr. Carlos Hernandez de Monagas having been assassinated, and the Rev. Rodriguez Felipes being absent, Dr. Antonio Hernandez de Monagas, with the consent of Archbishop Coll y Prat, given March 3, 1814, turned the college into a beaterio. In accordance with the archbishop’s authorization, the girls were to be taught by Carmelite beatas (devout women), who were to observe the monastic vows so long as they wished to live in the Beaterio. Archbishop Coll y Prat received the vows of, and gave the veil to, the first beatas in 1814.”
The secular clergy likewise contributed to the work of civilization. An illustrious phalanx of priests, conspicuous by the austerity of their lives, their learning and piety, and comprising members of the most distinguished families, maintained the dignity of the priesthood and the deep popular reverence for ministers of religion. This deep and broad rooting of faith and piety, watered with the blood of martyrs, explains their wonderful persistence among the Venezuelan people of the present day, in spite of all the assaults of this present age. The influence for good which the bishops have had upon the civilization of Venezuela has been brought out clearly by Pedro M. Arcaya, a judge of the national courts in “El Episcopado en la formation de la sociedad venezolana”, published on the occasion of the Centenary of Independence (July 5, 1905), in the special commemorative number issued by “La Religion“, of Caracas. Recalling a number of facts, taken at random, illustrative of the meritorious work of Bishops Gonzalo de Angulo, Antonio Gonzalez de Acuna, and Mauro de Tovar, Dr. Arcaya draws these conclusions:
“In the sixteenth century, and almost as late as the middle of the seventeenth, the royal power was undoubtedly less efficacious for order than was that of the Church. The former depended very much on the actual force which supported it; and that force was not in evidence to any great degree in the colony; European troops seldom appeared there, and indeed the territory was too large for the armies and fleets at the Spanish king’s disposal. It was, therefore, almost exclusively through the influence of the Church that the habits of civilized life could be implanted in the country—habits which, but for the Church, the conquerors would have lost, and which, as a matter of fact, they did lose to a great extent, by contact with aboriginal savagery. The conquest would probably have ended in ferocious civil wars, in which the Europeans would have lost ground, and would have sunk to the level of the tribes who were their adversaries, had not the Church spoken to their conscience, reviving the sentiments of justice and duty, which, in the heat of the struggle, had been supplanted by base passions. The retrogression had been terrible, and to restore the moral level of these people was a difficult undertaking. To this work, and to that of inculcating into the Indians and the negro slaves the moral and religious principles which form the basis of civilization, the Venezuelan bishops applied themselves with extraordinary energy. They encountered great resistance, and, in order to accomplish their civilizing mission, they had not only to use persuasion and gentleness, but actually to assume a sort of dictatorship so as to break up abuses, protect the weak, chastise iniquity, and finally lay the foundations of a society inspired by justice and not brute force. They made great progress in this direction; and if the work was not, after all, solidly accomplished, it was not through the lack of any efforts of theirs, but because the conditions were difficult in the extreme. In this way, then, the quasi-dictatorship of our first bishops was just and beneficial. Venezuelan society was in its medieval stage; the same phenomenon was reproduced which had occurred in Europe, when the bishops and abbots were the only persons capable of protecting the masses against the excesses of chieftains and warrior bands.”
The first episcopal see in Venezuela was that of Caro, founded pursuant to a Bull of Clement VII which was published July 21, 1531. This see was transferred to Caracas in 1637, and elevated to archiepiscopal rank by a Bull of Pius VII November 24, 1803. The Dioceses of Merida and Guayana were created at a much later period, while those of Barquisimeto, Calabozo, and Zulia came into existence in the course of the nineteenth century. The union of Church and State has always obtained in the Republic of Venezuela, though this union has suffered the trials incidental to modern political ideas, trials which with each repetition render the situation of the Church in its relations with the civil power more precarious. No sooner was the Colombian nationality constituted than the State, by the Law of July 28, 1824, assumed to the fullest extent those prerogatives over the Churches of America which, under the name of Patronato, the popes had conferred upon the Catholic kings. Without any fresh ratification or negotiations with the Holy See with respect to this privilege, Venezuela, when it separated from the Colombian Union, incorporated the Patronato in its legislation (October 14, 1830), in consequence of which a note, accompanied by documents, was formulated, in which the Archbishop of Caracas and other Venezuelan prelates asked the Constituent Congress for the suspension of the law in question. On March 21, 1833, an Act of Congress declared it to be once more in vigor, and this law, with possible applications, the Government has continued to maintain as the principle of its relations with the Holy See. The steps taken to conclude a concordat, as prescribed by the Law of Patronato, “to prevent disputes and complaints in the future”, have so far had no satisfactory results, while the convention with the Holy See, concluded in 1862, was repudiated by the Constituent Assembly of 1864, which resolved: “That the national executive open fresh negotiations with His Holiness in order to establish a concordat in relation with the laws of the Republic and in harmony with the spirit and letter of the Constitution which has just been ratified”. The diplomatic mission sent to Rome for this purpose was not successful.
Conflicts between the ecclesiastical and civil authorities occurred in the earliest period of the Republic’s existence. The first of these arose out of the refusal of Ramon Ignacio Mendez, Archbishop of Caracas, to swear allegiance, without qualification, fully, and in the form prescribed by the Constituent Congress, to the Constitution ratified in 1830. This refusal, based chiefly on the absence from the Constitution of any explicit recognition of Catholicism as the religion of the State, resulted, in spite of endeavors on the part of the Government to solve the difficulty amicably, in the exile of the archbishop, together with Mariano Talavera y Garces, titular Bishop of Tricala, Vicar Apostolic of Guayana, and Buenaventura Arias, titular Bishop of Jericho, Vicar Apostolic of Merida, who associated themselves with their metropolitan. The exile lasted seventeen months, the prelates (with the exception of Msgr. Arias, who died November 21, 1831) returning in April, 1832, after reaching an understanding with the Government. We may add, in passing, that Msgr. Arias left behind him a holy memory, the populace even crediting him with miracles. Another conflict, with Archbishop Mendez, arose in 1836. The prelate refused canonical institution to the persons nominated as dean and archdeacon, and the matter was taken up to the Supreme Court. To the same tribunal was afterwards referred the complaint of the Government against a pastoral letter in which Msgr. Mendez protested against the abolition of tithes, declaring this legislative act to be null. The result was another exile for the archbishop, who embarked for Curacao, November 30, 1830, never to return, as he died on Colombian territory, August 6, 1839.
The most lamentable quarrel between the Church in Venezuela and the Government was that in which Archbishop Silvestre Guevara y Lira and President Antonio Guzman Blanco were the principals. The latter having won the battle which definitively established his power, in 1870, his Government at Caracas requested of the archbishop the celebration of a Te Deum in thanksgiving for the bloody victory. The prelate replied that there would be no objection to complying with the request of the Government, but that it seemed to him more fitting to defer this religious function until the general amnesty, offered by the president during the campaign, had been put into effect, so that the public participation of the Church in the rejoicings of the victors might not be coincident with the mourning of families for the shedding of blood and for the many captives who lay in prison. This postponement was not satisfactory to the Government; Dr. Diego B. Urbaneja, its most influential member, seizing the opportunity to satisfy a private grudge, announced to Msgr. Guevara that his banishment was decreed. In justice to Guzman Blanco it must be recorded that he received the news of this banishment with no expression of satisfaction, and that, after his return to Caracas, in the discharge of his official duties, he took steps to effect the prelate’s recall and to reestablish the harmony which had been so rashly interrupted.
Unfortunately, no good understanding could be reached, as political passions helped to make the rupture more and more irremediable, and the disastrous results became lamentable in the extreme. Guzman kept no restraint on his anger; he visited it upon the whole Church and its most prized institutions, and, to destroy the influence of the priesthood completely, thenceforward set on foot a systematic persecution which, unhappily, met with complete success. He expelled with savage violence the last communities of religious women left in Venezuela, despoiling them of their possessions; he suppressed the seminaries, despoiling them also, and bringing ruin on that budding revival of ecclesiastical education which already constituted a fair hope for the country’s progress in civilization; he destroyed churches, took possession of buildings, pious institutions, and sacred property of every kind, abolished revenues, secularized the cemeteries, defamed the clergy, and, eliminating every element of distinction in the sacred ministry that could hinder his plan for the ruin of the Church, opened the field to mediocrity and low intrigue, bringing in ecclesiastics incapable of any lofty social influences whose indecorous character reflected upon the Church itself—a course abundantly fruitful of misfortune and innumerable evils. Guzman Blanco put the finishing touch to the legislation which, from the beginning of the republic, had been creating obstacles to the liberty of association, so far as religious communities are concerned, by decreeing the total suppression of convents in the country and prohibiting their restoration in future. He moreover aimed at setting up in Venezuela a national Church independent of Rome, but without the slightest success. Finally, he sought to bring about the relaxation of the clergy by recognizing, in the legislation establishing civil marriage, unions entered into by those in Holy orders; the design, however, was frustrated by an outraged public conscience, and this article of the Code was suppressed.
The struggle terminated in 1875, when Msgr. Guevara abdicated the See of Caracas at the suggestion of Pius IX and through the mediation of Msgr. Rocca Cocchia, delegate Apostolic. But the wounds inflicted on the Church were deep, the consequent diminution of her strength was dangerous, and the process of convalescence which followed was, in the existing political conditions of the country, necessarily slow in its inception. At present the reaction seems hardly to be commencing, the fatal consequences having gone to extreme lengths, and the problem of bringing that reaction to a successful issue is fraught with difficulties. During the twenty years of Guzman Blanco’s tyranny, laws were imposed on Venezuela which greatly hampered the salutary action of the Church. These laws continue to exist because, unhappily, the same principles of antagonism are dominant among the legislators of the country; though, by reason of the good will which subsequent rulers of the republic have entertained towards the Church, they have effected less harm than they might have done under a more drastic application. To ensure compliance with the law, the Registro Civil, created by Guzman Blanco, prohibited the recording of baptisms in parish books without a corresponding entry in the public register of births; and in subsequent amendments of the Code additional provisions have been made to the prejudice of the Church‘s rights in the custody of parochial archives. With the same purpose in view, the civil marriage instituted by Guzman Blanco prescribed, under heavy penalties, the precedence of the civil over the religious ceremony, and surrounded the former with so many formalities and difficulties as to make marriage extremely difficult. This law has become a constant source of public demoralization. On account of the difficulties here indicated, aggravated by abuses on the part of subordinate officials and the extortion of pecuniary payments which the law itself prohibits, marriages have become very infrequent, while it has been extremely difficult for the Church to exercise her moral power in this respect. Concubinage is not infrequent in the country. In the last reform of the Civil Code, Cipriano Castro, exercising a brutal despotism over the national conscience, introduced a divorce law, though repugnant to the people. The present (1912) government of Venezuela, however, presided over by Juan Vicente Gomez, has taken effective steps to improve the situation, perceiving plainly the deplorable moral and social effects which have resulted from the degradation of the marriage contract and heeding the zealous remonstrance of the bishops. A recently issued government order (October 12, 1911) has for its object the extermination of these abuses, and promises, moreover, to lay once more before the national congress the bill for revision of the laws concerning civil marriage. It must also be stated that the administration of Gen. Gomez has shown marked consideration to the Church, thereby affording a remedy for many of the evils that have beset her.
The Venezuelan Code recognizes the right of the Church to acquire and possess property, but curtails it to a great degree by closing the two most usual and effective ways of acquiring property for ecclesiastical institutions, viz., donations and bequests. The Code prohibits acquisition of property in these ways by churches, and even persons in Holy orders are forbidden to receive anything under testamentary disposition or by gift outside of the eighth civil (fourth ecclesiastical) degree. Thus the Church in Venezuela, despoiled of almost all that it once possessed, has been unable to recover itself in this respect, and is placed in pecuniary straits which preclude it from energetic social action and from rising out of the prostrate condition in which it was left by the persecutor. As a matter of fact, it can count only on the poor offerings of the faithful for the functions of religion, while the clergy with difficulty support themselves on stipends. The State now provides, under the head of ecclesiastical appropriations, only for the maintenance of prelates and chapters, and that with really insufficient sums, although, when the tithes were abolished by the Decree of April 6, 1833, an engagement was entered into “to defray the expenses of public worship”. This ecclesiastical budget has been incessantly mutilated, so that the state subvention becomes more and more precarious. The Government, however, punctually takes care of the church buildings and exempts from import duties all articles intended for the service of religion.
When the power of Guzman Blanco was broken, a reaction in favor of the Church set in, and in consequence, as well as by the operation of the inevitable law of human progress, certain advantages gained for the interests of religion may now be discerned in the country. To be sure, this recovery has been only very slow; the Church has nothing to rely upon but the good will of those who wield the supreme power, so that there is always the fear of some despotic excess on their part, or of their falling under some sinister influence. There have, moreover, been very unfortunate periods in the administration of the Church; a certain section of Venezuelan “intellectuals” are far from sympathetic with the Catholic cause, and the Church does not possess in Venezuela any large number of subjects capable of pushing the defense of Catholicism with brilliant success. There is nothing but the inherent power of the Faith to operate in society and in individual souls for the recovery of its legitimate influence.
In 1886 the Government itself introduced into Venezuela the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph of Tarbes and entrusted to them the service of the hospitals. The Sisters founded educational establishments for girls, which are still considered among the best of their kind in the country. The two best are at Caracas; but the congregation also has efficiently conducted colleges at Valencia, Puerto Cabello, and Barquisimeto. Later on, another congregation of Sisters of Charity, those of St. Anne (Spanish), established themselves at Maracaibo, Merida, and Ciudad Bolivar; at present, however, they are found only at Maracaibo. Other institutes of women afterwards began to appear in the country, devoted to the service of charity, catechetical teaching, and, in some degree, the contemplative life, but not cloistered. Among these may be mentioned in particular the Little Sisters of the Poor of Maiquetia, the Servants of the Most Holy Sacrament, and the Franciscan Sisters. All of these work with great abnegation for the respective objects of their institutes, and do a great deal to maintain the influence of religion among the people.
With a view to providing for the evangelization of the aborigines, some thousands of whom still live as savages in the regions of the Orinoco, the Government invited Capuchin monks to Venezuela in 1891. The work among the Indians has not been successfully completed, but the Capuchins have done very meritorious work as missionaries, assisting prelates in their apostolic journeyings, preaching to the people in many districts, and greatly fostering piety in the cities where they are stationed. At present they have residences at Caracas and Maracaibo. At the invitation of the Government, the Salesians came to Venezuela in 1894. This congregation has been obliged to exercise its mission slowly and has not yet attained the full development of its program; it has, however, proceeded with a persistent firmness the efficacy of which is seen in the results obtained in the education of youth. It now has a considerable establishment at Caracas, a college at Valencia, and one at Maracaibo. Its members have rendered devoted service in the salvation of souls. In 1899 the Augustinian Recollects came to Venezuela; their ministrations have been utilized by the bishops in parochial work. They are employed in the Archdiocese of Caracas and the Dioceses of Guayana and Zulia. In 1903, at the invitation of the Government, the Sons of Mary Immaculate established themselves at Caracas, where they are known as the French Fathers. There they conduct a magnificent college and at the same time afford valuable assistance to the clergy of the capital in the care of souls. Lastly, in the same year, 1903, the Dominican Fathers, also under government protection, took possession of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Caracas. They are gaining more and more in the esteem of society at large and the appreciation of the metropolitan. Certain members of their community are now engaged in teaching in the seminary of Caracas.
All these elements of religious progress, although the numbers of the communities have been small in each case, have entered Venezuela in spite of the existence of special laws against them and in virtue of the religious liberty guaranteed to Venezuelans. Certain it is that, owing to that mistrust of Catholicism which in these days disturbs the judgment of politicians throughout the world, the last two Constitutions adopted in this country embody restrictions which may be considered invidious to the Church and which, given the occasion, could be used as a weapon against her; at the same time, these restrictions might very well serve to protect her in view of the peculiar way in which power is exercised in the Republic of Venezuela. One most important compensation made to the Church by the Government was the legal reestablishment of the seminaries in virtue of an executive order of General Cipriano Castro, issued September 28, 1900. These institutions now no longer lead the diminished existence that was formerly theirs. That of Caracas, known as the Metropolitan, is divided into a great and a little seminary; the Government contributes to its support, and its professorships of ecclesiastical science have the official character of catedras universitarias. The Dioceses of Merida and Barquisimeto also possess seminaries with lesser academic privileges, and one is now being organized in the Diocese of Zulia. These foundations encourage fair hopes for the future, even though the number of students be small owing to the paucity of genuine vocations in the scanty population.
A large proportion of the secular clergy of Venezuela conscientiously discharge the duties of their ministry, laboring to foster piety, teaching the Catechism, and performing other parochial offices. Nor must it be overlooked that in the last ten years very efficacious efforts have been made by worthy priests for the Catholic revival in the fatherland. It is a lamentable fact, indeed, that, whether through the shortcomings of individuals, melancholy relaxations of discipline, or other internal troubles, deficiencies are still evident. Certain cooperative enterprises—for the instruction of youth, for propaganda through the Press, for the warfare against particular vices, and other activities of equal importance—are still awaiting their hour in Venezuela. As to religious instruction in schools and colleges, the State, having assumed the burden of public education, making it gratuitous and obligatory explicitly authorizes the teaching of religion in elementary schools. Principals of colleges, on their part, anxious that their establishments, most of them excellent centers of mental culture, should also be in good esteem among Catholics, are almost invariably attentive to the duty of giving their pupils religious instruction and making them fulfil their religious obligations, and at the same time of fostering piety among them.
In the religious conditions, and consequently the progress of social culture, throughout vast tracts of the national territory, much is lacking. In all parts of the country the Faith exists, but daily life does not always correspond with belief. This is due to the constraints which the government places upon the free exercise of the Church‘s activities. It must be taken into account that the religious institutes, for this reason, and on account of the fewness of their subjects, exercise their activities only with great difficulty in the capital and in some other important centers of population. Alcoholism, sensuality, and gambling are the predominant vices; it must be admitted, too, that peculation and other political abuses have greatly helped to pervert the moral sense of Venezuelan society. Of the 2,713,703 inhabitants only 3361 are Protestants and 247 Jews. In Guayana and Goajira there are still remnants of the aboriginal tribes, a total of 98,932 souls for whose evangelization it has not been possible to do very much up to the present time, notwithstanding the efforts of the Government. During the last few years, owing to a misinterpretation of the law of freedom of worship, the Protestants have begun to spread their doctrines among the people, but the Government, by a recent decree, October 24, 1911, put a stop to this propaganda by designating exactly the limits within which, according to the Constitution, representatives of other religions may exercise their ministerial functions.
The archdiocese (see Archdiocese of Caracas) has a numerous chapter and eighty-two parishes, besides twenty-two affiliated churches and private chapels. It has two seminaries, a great and a little. There are 35 male religious, taking all the regular institutes together. The congregations of women aggregate 242 sisters. The present archbishop (1911) is Msgr. Juan Bautista Castro, whose zeal has always manifested itself in the defense of the Church, and especially as an apostle of the Divine Eucharist, for the adoration of which he has consecrated at Caracas the sanctuary of the Santa Capilla, where perpetual homage is rendered to the Blessed Sacrament with daily Exposition. He is the founder of the Congregation of Servants of the Most Holy Sacrament. It is in this part of Venezuela that the religious movement is most intense. The administration of this Church, as of most of the Venezuelan Churches, was formerly regulated by the synodal constitutions enacted at Caracas in 1687; at present all the dioceses are governed under the Pastoral Instruction promulgated by the Venezuelan episcopate in the Conference of May 23 to July 27, 1904. This Instruction is based upon the decrees of the Plenary Council of Latin America. It is signed by Juan Bautista Castro, Archbishop of Caracas, and Antonio Maria Duran, Antonio Ramon Silva, Felipe Neri Sendrea, and Francisco Marvez, Bishops respectively of Guayana, Merida, Calabozo, and Zulia; Aguedo Felipe Alvarado, at that time vicar capitular, now Bishop, of Barquisimeto, also assisted at the conferences. The Catholic Press has flourished at Caracas, even though, in the existing conditions of the country, it has never been materially prosperous; it is represented by periodicals which defend the interests of the Church with boldness. The present most fully authorized organ is “La Religion“, which has existed for twenty years; the “Heraldo Catholico”, a weekly, exercises a very salutary influence, as well as several monthly reviews of a devotional character,—such as the “Mensajero Venezolano del Corazen de Jesus”, “El Santisimo Sacramento”—and periodicals published by religious houses—such as the “Boletin del Pan de San Antonio”. The “Boletin Eclesiastico de la Arquidiocesis” is a model of its kind. Mention should here be made of the Eucharistic Congress, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at Caracas, celebrated there in December, 1907.
Mariano Marti, twenty-seventh Bishop of Venezuela and fifteenth of Caracas, bequeathed to posterity a very important work. In the compilation entitled “Documentos para la historia de la vida publica del Libertador de Colombia, Peru y Bolivia“, by General Jose Felix Blanco, vol. I, pp. 501, 502, we read: “I visited the diocese, making lists of and descriptions of all the villages, the distances, products, occupations of the inhabitants, etc. In the absence of a general census of Venezuela, the lists drawn up by Marti, on his visitation of half of what was the Province of Venezuela, have served as the most probable data of the Venezuelan population towards the end of the seventeenth century. These statistical works of Marti’s furnished the first data which the governments of Venezuela obtained in the way of a formal census. A large folio volume, unpublished, of the visitations of this bishop is to be found in manuscript in the National Library at the capital of the United States of Venezuela (1875). Bishop Marti laid down wise rules for the reformation of the customs and services of churches. He died at Caracas, February 20, 1792.”
The Diocese of Merida (q.v.) has for its territory the States of Merida, Trujillo, Tachira, and Zamora in the most mountainous region of the republic. Its present bishop (1911) is Msgr. Antonio Ramon Silva. In this diocese the traditions of ecclesiastical discipline are well maintained, with a grateful memory of the bishops of old who organized its administration and bravely defended the rights of the Church, as well as of priests meritorious for wisdom, austerity, and patriotism. Among the former should be mentioned Lasso de la Vega (Don Ramon), who, as a senator in the first Congresses of Colombia, admirably discharged his duties towards the interests of religion, and by whose intervention relations between the republic and the Holy See were first established. Transferred to the Diocese of Quito, he died there April 4, 1831. In 1904, when his tomb was opened, with a view to building a more artistic one, “his body was found in a state of good preservation, so much so as to permit of its being vested anew in pontificals and piously laid to rest in a new coffin” (from a report sent by the secretary of the Archbishop of Quito to the present Bishop of Merida). We may also mention Juan Hilario Boset, who died May 26, 1873, while suffering exile on account of a pastoral which he issued in reference to the Civil Marriage Law. The present bishop has created the diocesan press, from which “Documentos para la historia de la Diocesis de Merida” is being published—a work of individual zeal and the first great step taken in Venezuela towards the production of an ecclesiastical history. Here, too, is published the “Boletin Diocesano”. There are other Catholic publications in the diocese—such as “El Castillo” of Valera, “La Colmena” of Fariba, the “Angel Guardian” of Merida.
The Diocese of Guayana (see Diocese of Saint Thomas of Guiana) covers the whole southern, southeastern, and eastern portion of the republic. To its second bishop, Jose Antonio Mohedano (d. 1804), belongs the credit of introducing into Venezuela the cultivation of coffee; in 1783, while still parish priest of Chacao, in the neighborhood of Caracas, he set out the first plantation of this shrub, which has become a great source of agricultural prosperity to the nation. This diocese numbers in the list of its prelates Mariano Talavera y Games, “the Orator of Colombia”, and Mariano Fernandez Fortique, an eminent man of letters. Bishop Talavera, who governed the diocese only as vicar Apostolic, edited a periodical called the “Cronica Eclesiastica de Venezuela”, in which he gave some excellent data for the religious history of the country. It has not been possible to adequately cultivate this widely extended field of souls: the diocese has 102 parishes and only 40 priests all told. Such are the obstacles which the zeal and good will of the present bishop (1911), Msgr. Antonio Maria Duran, has had to encounter.
Within the Diocese of Barquisimeto (q.v.) is included the territory of Coro, which was the first episcopal see of the country. It was at Coro that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was first celebrated on Venezuelan soil, in 1527, under a cuff (myrrh) tree. The cross which was used for the altar on this occasion was carefully preserved, and in 1864 Juan Crisostomo Falcon restored it and erected a monument to it in the same city. The present bishop of this diocese (1911), Msgr. Aguedo F. Alvarado, has infused much energy into its administration ever since his occupancy of the vicariate capitular, which lasted ten years. By means of pastoral visitations, organized as missions, and other resources of his apostolic zeal, the religious spirit of his flock has been greatly developed and strengthened. The diocese has its ecclesiastical bulletin and some Catholic periodicals—such as “Rayos de Luz” of Barquisimeto and “La Paz” of Guarico. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Tarbes serve in a hospital here and conduct a school for girls. The Little Sisters of the Poor of Maiquetia have houses at Barquisimeto and El Focuyo.
The Diocese of Calabozo (q.v.) comprises the central and southeastern portions of the republic, where the plains of Venezuela are chiefly situated. This diocese is poorly supplied with clergy. The present bishop is Msgr. Felipe Neri Sendrea.
The Diocese of Zulia (q.v.) covers only the State of Zulia, in the extreme northeastern part of the republic. Maracaibo, its capital, is a city of great importance, remarkable, also, for its religious fervor and attachment to Catholic principles. The present bishop (1911) is Msgr. Arturo Celestino Alvarez, consecrated November 6, 1910.
N. E. NAVARRO