Hundreds Gather at NY Riverside Church to Pray for Health of Venezuelan President

On Wednesday hundreds of people gathered at New York’s historic Riverside Church to pray for the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Members of the church’s diverse ecumenical community were joined by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, as well as numerous community leaders and activists from the Bronx.

By Venezuelanalysis.com

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Ecumenical gathering to pray for the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held  on 21 September 2011 (Agencies).
Ecumenical gathering to pray for the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held on 21 September 2011 (Agencies).
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Merida, September 22nd 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Wednesday hundreds of people gathered at New York’s historic Riverside Church to pray for the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Members of the church’s diverse ecumenical community were joined by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, as well as numerous community leaders and activists from the Bronx, a predominantly African American and Latino neighborhood of over 1.5 million people.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, in New York for the 66th General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), thanked all those gathered for what he called a "beautiful act of love, of prayer."

Maduro added that prayers made for Chavez’s health should coincide with prayers "for an end to the attacks on our peoples, for peace for the people of Libya…for the people of Iraq," among others victims of foreign interventions.

Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said Wednesday’s event demonstrated that people around the world, including those who live and work in the United States, understood the "decisive role" played by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "in the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean."

Rodriguez added that the Cuban delegation was present to express its "best wishes" for Chavez and to "appeal for peace and social justice…in a church (Riverside) that is so close to God and so far from Wall Street."

The Riverside Church is a popular interdenominational church in Manhattan, one of New York’s five boroughs. According to its website, the church has some 2,400 members and affiliates from over 40 different denominational, national, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

The church is known around the world as a hub for progressive thought and action within the United States, the place at which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most radical speech, Beyond Vietnam, in which he denounced his government’s use of war and destruction against the people of Vietnam.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, also in New York for the UN summit, said his prayers for Chavez were accompanied by prayers for, "peace, social justice, and the demands of our peoples."

Morales added that during recent press events in New York, he was asked to speculate about his "possibly replacing Fidel [Castro] or [Hugo] Chavez" as leader of the political, economic, and cultural transformations underway in Latin American.

In response, Morales said, "both [Chavez and Castro] are irreplaceable leaders in the Latin American struggle for liberation."

In a surprise call from the Venezuelan president, Chavez interrupted the event with a live, "Aló, are you hearing me?"

Chavez told those gathered he was praying along with them, and promised to "be in the Bronx again soon, there at Riverside, in New York" before reiterating the message issued by the Venezuelan Foreign Minister.

People should pray "to save the world from the madness of war…pray for peace and for the health of the planet" said Chavez, who added that participants should take into account the words of popular Venezuelan musician Ali Primera, "praying is not enough, one must act."

With respect to his health, Chavez explained that he was finishing his fourth cycle of chemotherapy, and hoped, "god willing, that it will be the last, that it will be sufficient" to bring an end to his "very long, unexpected, and difficult" battle with cancer.

During his call to those gathered at the Riverside Church, the Venezuelan president also proposed the incorporation into PetroCaribe of social movements such as Petro-Bronx, a community-based coalition of South Bronx residents that receives financial support from Venezuela’s CITGO Petroleum Company.

"In a few weeks we are to hold the next PetroCaribe summit, which now has some 20 member countries from the Caribbean and Central America. Why can’t the Bronx join PetroCaribe and have a representative there," Chavez asked.

PetroCaribe, launched in 2005, is an Energy Cooperation Agreement between the Venezuela government and sister countries in the Caribbean and Central America. According to the entity’s website, the organization seeks to "overcome asymmetries with regard to access to energy resources" and ensure the "coordination and articulation of energy policies, including oil and its by-products; gas; power, and its efficient use; technological cooperation; training; the development of energy infrastructure; and the efficient use of alternative energy sources, such as wind, and solar energy, among others."

In an article written for Upside Down World, Lainie Cassel explained that the organizations funded by Petro-Bronx resources "are a majority community-based and built as a response to what they argue has been decades long recession in the South Bronx. From worker-run and food cooperatives to environmental justice and women of color collectives, many of the groups are also creating new democratic alternatives in an area that has received little attention from the city."

Luica Solano, speaking on behalf of Petro-Bronx, said the organization, "keeps on working and caring for the seed you brought to the Bronx in 2005."

"We continue the struggle here and we won’t allow anything to defeat us," she added.

The Venezuelan president visited the Bronx in 2005 and promised to support grassroots efforts to improve the quality of life in the South Bronx. Two years later, CITGO began providing some one million dollars per year to people’s organizations in the area.

Wednesday’s ecumenical event was organized by the Riverside Church, Petro-Bronx, the Cuba Solidarity Movement, Pastors for Peace, and the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle, among others.