· Vatican City ·

Janeth Marquez: “My family pays dearly for being close to the poor in Caracas”

Janeth Marquez with a group of children
27 June 2020

Bishop Fernàndez, CEV secretary: “The director of Caritas is one of the maternal faces of God”

Every day, Janeth Marquez, the director of Caritas Venezuela leaves home and tries to plug the flaws of a Country that has been devastated by hunger, looting, and violence. Every day, she records the political conflicts, the war with the USA over petrol, the embargo, humanitarian aid blocked at the border with Colombia and thousands of desperate people crossing that same border in search of food, medicines, and work.

Janeth responds to my video call between a meeting and the distribution of food and medicine packages. She asked Monsignor Josè Trinidad Fernàndez, the auxiliary bishop of Caracas and secretary of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, to act as her interpreter, who immediately stresses: “Women are always important in the Church, they are the heart of God’s love. Because love manifests the maternal sense that God has towards all human beings, the way God is mother”. Janeth confirms this by echoing his words: “As the Gospel clearly states, it is two women who come to the tomb to witness Christ’s Resurrection. Eighty percent of the people who work in Caritas Venezuela are women; and speaking also of grammar, Caritas is a feminine noun, it is not male”.

The two are reminiscent of Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son, kept at the Prado. “In that embrace are the two faces of God, the paternal and the maternal: there is a strong hand, which is the support of a man, and the hand of a woman, which is the caress of God. This is the Church: a strong hand, which does not leave us to evil, and love, the tenderness of the Lord, which offers us an opportunity to become better. Caritas is this maternal face”.

Janeth Marquez, 55, is married to Bartolo Solèr, a soccer coach for children. She has two children: “Gabriel, 29, and Santiago, 26. They had to leave the country because my work put them in harm’s way. They live in Chile, because here those who want to do good are persecuted instead of accepted. My husband and I haven’t seen them for two years, but somehow they are close to me: they both work for Caritas Chile.

Last summer, Janeth won the Humanitarian Interaction Award, worldwide network of 180 non-governmental organizations. “She is our ambassador to the world”, says Bishop Fernández. “She can talk about suffering. She has always worked in the Church, since childhood, in the parish. She is a political scientist, a graduate in sociology: she is able to understand the social situation of the population and to read the political situation of the Country. She is able to participate in various programs with different institutions; in Venezuela but also outside. She has this ardor for the Gospel, to make Christ a mission that helps the people who are most in need”.

“The greatest tragedy in Venezuela is that of the children”, says Janeth. They are malnourished and often abandoned, and become victims of trafficking, or enlisted by criminal gangs. In over seven years of an economic crisis without a let up, more than a million children have seen their parents emigrate in search of food, leaving their children alone, at bus stations or in orphanages. Not to mention the hundreds of orphans made so by a crime rate that makes Caracas the third most dangerous city in the world (based on the more than one hundred murders per 100 thousand inhabitants).

According to a recent study by the United Nations World Food Program, one in three Venezuelans suffers from hunger, 9.3 million people are unable to receive sufficient nutrition on a daily basis; and are forced to live on a diet of tubers and beans from wages emptied by an inflation that the International Monetary Fund estimated at 10 million percent in 2019.

A Unicef report conducted last year showed that 3.2 million children live below the poverty line. Since 2013, the government no longer provides data on child mortality. “But 65% of the child population is in a situation of severe malnutrition, 13% acutely”, Janeth explained.

She runs an organization with over 20,000 volunteers, yet “we can only reach 5% of the population”. “We need funding”, Bishop Fernández points out.

It is Janeth who lists the critical points. “The monthly salary of a worker is around two Euros, a figure with which you can buy twenty eggs; for a family of five, eight people, in one day the shopping is finished. And there is a lack of gasoline, in a Country that is the largest producer of oil. The gas for cooking arrives to the houses once a month, that is if it arrives. People have started to buy electric kitchens, but there is also a lack of electricity: four out of ten families are without electricity for eight hours every day; they cannot cook even like that. The only possibility remains wood, but the houses have not been prepared for this. Water? Seventy-one percent of families tell us that no running water is coming into the house.

by Federica Re David