By Mark Ellis
The status of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s cancer is officially a state secret, but that didn’t stop him from making a tear-filled appeal for healing from Jesus on Holy Thursday at a Catholic Mass in his home state.
Chavez shocked the world last June, when he disclosed that Cuban doctors had removed a cancerous tumor from his abdominal area. A July report in “El Periódico de Catalunya” reported that his colon cancer perforated the intestinal wall and caused an infection.”
But a few days later, the Venezuelan government denied he had colon cancer, stated that the tumor was completely removed, and that Chávez was headed for “complete recovery”.
Despite the conflicting reports, the controversial socialist leader began traveling to Cuba at regular intervals for radiation treatments after the initial denials.
In February, he revealed that new lesions were present, raising the specter the cancer had spread. Indeed, Dr. Jose Rafael Marquina, a Venezuelan doctor who resides in Florida, told a Spanish newspaper that Chavez’s cancer had metastasized into the liver, adrenal glands, and bladder, which left radiation as his last hope – apart from a miracle from God.
Other reports have suggested Cuban doctors botched his treatments, which left him with intestinal burns, and in a state of desperation for just such a healing miracle. While he once sang and dance before crowds after returning from his radiation treatments, a tone of sobriety and reflection emerged as Holy Week approached.
Chavez considers himself a Roman Catholic who follows in the “revolutionary” traditions of Jesus. On Holy Thursday, Chávez sat in the pews with his parents on either side. He held hands with them while a priest led a prayer for his health. At one point, tears rolled down his cheeks.
Immediately following the Mass, Chávez placed a red rosary around his neck and became visibly moved as he spoke to a small group that attended with him.
“Give me your crown, Jesus. Give me your cross, your thorns so that I may bleed,” Chavez intoned. “But give me life, even if it’s painful life, because I have more to do for this country and these people. Do not take me yet,” he pleaded, as tears fell.
Brazilian media have reported that Chavez will make an emergency trip toBrazilafter his failed treatments inCuba. However, he previously refused treatment inBrazilbecause the hospital was not able to provide the level of security and privacy he requested.
In a public appearance on his 57th birthday, Chavez said his health trouble had led him to radically reorient his life towards a “more diverse, more reflective and multi-faceted” outlook, while he called on the middle classes and the private sector to get more involved in his revolution.
Chávez is a Roman Catholic who wanted to become a priest as a young man. He believes his socialism has roots in the teachings of Jesus Christ,and has used the slogan of “Christ is with the Revolution,” even as his policies have led to disputes with Catholic and Protestant clergy.
In an interview with Steve Ellner in 2005, he said, “He [Jesus] accompanied me in difficult times, in crucial moments. So Jesus Christ is no doubt a historical figure—he was someone who rebelled, an anti-imperialist guy. He confronted theRoman Empire…. Because who might think that Jesus was a capitalist? No. Judas was the capitalist, for taking the coins! Christ was a revolutionary. He confronted the religious hierarchies. He confronted the economic power of the time. He preferred death in the defense of his humanistic ideals, who fostered change…. He is our Jesus Christ.”