Unfortunately It has been common in Venezuela that If a person loses his life because of violence and crime. From 2019, Venezuela remains one of the countries with the highest number of homicides in the region and in the world, with an estimated number of 16,505 deaths. This type of information may seem to us simply as data or statistics. But if we stop to listen to the concrete stories of Venezuelan families, they simply move us, make us indignant, lead us to reflection, and make us wonder about the very meaning of our lives and of our loved ones. In these situations as religious and priests from our faith, we try to be close, to live and to elaborate the mourning, to give hope, comfort and support to the relatives and to those most affected.
Today it is the turn of Dehonians in Venezuela. On the night of October 20, 2020, while Father José Manuel was trying to prevent the assault on some parishioners at the door of the parish house, he was fatally shot, causing his death.
Father José Manuel was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on November 25, 1980. He is the son of Isabel and Juan, Portuguese migrants in Venezuela. He was the third of four siblings. As many Venezuelan families were merchants and entrepreneurs, they have worked and struggled to get their family ahead not without difficulties. Due to the unstable situation in Venezuela, his mother had to return to Madeira (Portugal) and his father remained in the urbanization “El Cementerio”, where his children grew up.
José Manuel entered the congregation of the priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 2000. He was living in our parish “San Miguel Arcángel” in “El Cementerio”. He made his first vows in this parish on September 29, 2004 and was subsequently ordained priest on December 19, 2009.
During his diaconal ministry and later as a priest, he was in charge of the pastoral work in the parish of “Nuestra Señora del Carmen” in Mariara. He participated the formator’s course in Rome and later returned to Venezuela. He was appointed as parish administrator at the church “Santo Domingo de Guzmán” in the diocese of San Carlos, where our Dehonian community currently resides. After some time of discernment, he left the community and placed himself at the disposal of the local bishop who entrusted to him the church dedicated to the patroness of the diocese “La Divina Pastora” in the town of Lagunitas. In this church he promoted in a creative and dedicated way the devotion to the Virgin and developed many social activities in the rural area. He was serving as a parish priest at the “San Juan” Eucharistic sanctuary in San Carlos. In that parish, he began the restoration of the church that dates from the colonial era and has promoted various social activities in favor of the most disadvantaged. Among other tasks, he was responsible for the pastoral missionary of the Diocese of San Carlos.
Those who knew José Manuel, know of his charismatic and dynamic spirit, always interested in initiating innovative activities. His affable and relaxed character fitted perfectly with the pastoral work. He knew how to interiorize the “ecce venio” in his life. I personally remember how available he was when it came to help the brothers. Although he was fully immersed in the pastoral work of his parish, he never ceased to have a Dehonian heart. He frequently visited Dehonians and providentially worked alongside our technical school, which allowed him to have a good and close relationship with the community. He was a man of “open doors” to welcome and today we remember his smile and particular charisma. We remember him as a fervent devotee of the Virgin Mary and the Blessed Sacrament, but above all we remember him as a restless man on the move in constant search and as a “good brother”.
Today it is our turn to comfort each other. Our sincere condolences to his family members -some in Venezuela and others outside- who, like us, have been dismayed by the news. Feel our support and affection from the heart. May we find in the pierced Heart of Christ, consolation and hope in this moment of sadness and anguish. We pray for so many families who suffer this tragedy day after day in Venezuela and in the world. That the injustices and violence of the world may be transformed into peace and justice, we fervently implore the Heart of Jesus.