“In Venezuela there are many wounds to heal”

An interview with Alfredo Infante SJ, Provincial of Venezuela. Let’s find out what he commented on his work in the SIC magazine, the challenges that his new mission in the Latin American province entails, and his personal reflections.

A promoter of human rights and community organization, the priest and philosopher faces a new stage as provincial of the Society of Jesus in Venezuela. “We must embark on the path of reunion”, said Father Alfredo Infante, on January 14, when he took office. The priest was appointed by the superior general of the congregation, Arturo Sosa SJ, to replace Rafael Garrido SJ, who has held the position since 2016.

Now, as a Jesuit provincial, he faces a new challenge: on his shoulders is one of the most active Catholic orders in Venezuela, with deeply rooted works and social impact in the educational and community spheres. On this occasion, in a close interview, he has responded to SIC magazine, his great school of formation and thought, some questions about the context in which he undertakes this new mission.

What has the SIC magazine meant in the career of Alfredo Infante?

I have been with SIC magazine since I was very young. The Jesuits in Maracaibo had gone to the neighborhood and Father Acasio Velandia, who is very emblematic in the history of the Province of Venezuela in what has to do with the option for the poor, wanted us to have a spiritual experience and that from it we could understand our social and political commitment. It was a comprehensive training.

From a very young age my vocation for education was born, so when I had to discern professionally, of course, education was the forte, but I also came from that ecclesial experience, from social, political and theological formation. All these elements come together in a discernment that leads me to study at the Normal de Fe y Alegría. In this process, both in the neighborhood and in Fe y Alegría, the SIC magazine appeared. It was like putting on “new glasses” to analyze reality. Since then, SIC magazine has come into my life, as a teacher, as a central input to know –in depth– the situation of the country and to be able to transmit it to the people.

When I joined the Society of Jesus, I remember that the SIC magazine was compulsory reading in the novitiate. A formative proposal from the Society of Jesus so that we could share the analyzes that, from that platform, were made about the country. At that time, the magazine contained very important theological and spiritual writings that nourished the formative experience of the young Jesuit.

Conceiving SIC as a community of solidarity allowed me to get in touch with a good number of actors and professionals who want to contribute to the country, and that also gives one hope, right?

Honestly, I was very excited to write in SIC magazine. In fact, I wrote my first article when I reached the Philosophy stage (1989), which for me was like “a great dream come true.” After that, because of my Colombian roots, they ask me to follow up on the Colombian conflict from the perspective of Venezuela and that is what my first articles are about.

Later, while I was studying Theology (1992-1993), they invited me to be a member of the Editorial Board of the magazine. However, shortly after I have to leave to travel to Africa, but from there I continue writing articles about antipersonnel mines and the problem of Angola… Today, what I value most about this experience is that, thanks to SIC magazine, I developed the habit , also fueled by my desire as an educator and social thinker, to reflect on the work and the situation of the different contexts where I worked, through constant listening and reflection processes that allowed me to ruminate things, to write them and disseminate them in SIC as a platform.

Later, when I founded the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) of Venezuela, I began to write on issues of migration, refuge, the Church and human rights, which became the most important constant theme of my action. social and pastoral in recent years. In this context, when they offer me the direction of the SIC magazine, I assume it with great joy, but also with fear. With joy because SIC magazine was a training school for me, it was like seeing a great dream materialize before my eyes, but at the same time with fear for the responsibility that this position would imply.

Venezuela was entering a very difficult situation (2014-2020) and directing a platform like SIC magazine, with so many years of experience, to reflect on the complexity of the national context and generate a word of hope for the people, in the midst of the circumstances that they lived, was something of great weight. However, it was a great learning experience, since in the exercise of “thinking of the possible country”, it was essential to dialogue and connect with the other actors involved. Conceiving SIC as a community of solidarity allowed me to get in touch with a good number of actors and professionals who want to contribute to the country, and that also gives one hope, right? Because you discover that in the midst of all this there is a lot of people betting on the reconstruction of Venezuela, people of good will who, although fragmented and dispersed, generate meeting spaces in SIC magazine, full of uplifting conversations, which help not only to grow professionally and vocationally, but also to think about a country and build hope.

Later, when I went to La Vega (upper part), as appointed parish priest, to share life there and have a specific contribution from the poor, from where the people who are suffering the most from this reality live, I realized that rethinking the reality from there is very interesting, but also necessary. The wealth of thought arises from conversations and living with people. I remember that they told me: – “Father, you are one of us, you are our voice”, but I have not done anything other than think about the questions that they ask me, to rethink their reflections and to be a loudspeaker of them, always putting SIC magazine as a platform at their service…

By this I mean that I could not understand my formation and vital existential trajectory without SIC magazine in the middle.

What are the main challenges that Venezuela presents as a Jesuit province?

I believe that one of those challenges has to do with a parable that I evidenced while on a mission in Angola: the trees that remain in the midst of the storm are the trees that have deep roots and that, although mistreated, remain standing because They were able to read the weather and knew how to flexibly face the winds. The roots, in the experience of the Jesuit and the apostolate of the Company, are everything that has to do with spirituality. The contemplation of Christ that the Gospels reveal calls us to follow Jesus and have a correlation with him, but that relationship must be situated in this context, and in that sense I have to discern what it means to follow Jesus today, and I believe that following Jesus today, within the Ignatian charism, is a great challenge. One that goes through reconciliation and this means that, in our country, for many reasons – among them the political polarization that has affected families, groups, religious communities, the Church and others – there are many wounds to heal. The challenge is to bet on the reunion from love. And loving implies betting on the other, on coexistence with the other, acknowledging their existence and understanding unity in plurality; that is, assuming plurality not as a threat to unity, but as a horizon. Unity is not so much a homogeneous thing, but something interrelated, interconnected, symbiotic, reciprocal…

Venezuela is fragmented, it is wounded; We are a country in mourning. And duels have to be processed too…

On the other hand, at the economic level there is great inequality. For this, we have to consider the issue of socioeconomic justice, of justice before the law, but beyond that, we have to heal people’s hearts. The restoration of institutions and justice, which is necessary, is not enough, there is a long-term task that is healing, reconciliation and goes through the restoration of trust.

The great challenge is to attend to the complex humanitarian emergency in its entirety, which is expressed in a deterioration and an economic crisis, but also in an even more serious socioeconomic and sociocultural inequality. There is a whole series of structural elements of an economic, political, social and cultural type to attend to; a systemic human rights crisis that has done much personal and social damage. It’s about a anthropological damage such that, from the theological-spiritual perspective, it could be said that the greatest crisis that the country is going through today is spiritual; a crisis of confidence that is also presented to us as an opportunity to rethink ourselves as a society and for a new subject to emerge.

Thus, the crisis is not only a challenge, but also a call for hope. To rethink ourselves personally, as a community and as a country, but recovering the trust of our population.

And, since the Society of Jesus is part of the Church, and the Church is a mother, and the mother accompanies, we are called at this moment, without neglecting the economic dimension, to address this crisis of confidence. We have to consider how to remake the country responsibly.

Alfredo Infante the parish priest What does the provincial have to say to Alfredo Infante?

The parish priest Alfredo tells the provincial Alfredo Infante to pray a lot. As Pedro Arrupe, sj said in his “Swan Song” (Bangok, 1981): Pray. Pray a lot. Human efforts do not solve problems like these… we need the help of the Lord.

I would also tell him not to forget to be close to the people, to listen to them, because a deaf government does a lot of damage. Also that he bets on healing wounds, on reconciling, on forgiving, that he continues betting on people.

A work of God, such as the Society of Jesus, cannot be governed if one is not a disciple, if one does not listen to the word of God, if one does not discern reality

And I would remind you that governments are transitory, but that the mission that the Lord entrusts to us today in Venezuela is a long-term, long-term path, therefore, that you work on those things that are truly fruitful rather than successful, and that difference seems important to specify. These are two paradigms: one is that of success and the other lies in fertility, that is, the Christian paradigm, which is why Jesus insists that if the grain of wheat does not die, it does not bear fruit. Seen in this way, the grain of wheat that wants to be successful and preserve itself does not transcend. So, he would also tell her to bet on fertility, on those learning processes that generate humanity.

And finally, remember that a work of God, such as the Society of Jesus, cannot be governed if you are not a disciple, if you do not listen to the word of God, if you do not discern reality.

Recognizing my limitations, I assume this responsibility with deep gratitude and a desire to serve. I ask for the prayers of our people, so that at all times they support and encourage me as well.

With information from religiondigital.org

“In Venezuela there are many wounds to heal”