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Mr. Chavez’s religiosity contrasts with the resolute secularism of his political father figure, Mr. Castro, and other leaders who have followed the socialist path Mr. Chavez lauds.

A large majority of Venezuelans practice Catholicism, and Protestant denominations have grown rapidly in some parts of the country. Many Venezuelans also practice folk religions and leave offerings at roadside shrines.

Mixing religion and politics isn’t new in Venezuela, even if religious groups generally don’t get directly involved in politics.

Former President Luis Herrera characterized himself as spiritually pure and promoted social programs for the poor while leading his Copei Social Christian party.

Other Latin American leaders have employed religious symbols while seeking votes.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega highlighted his Christian faith during his re-election bid last year, when his campaign rallies were accompanied by religious processions, chants and the campaign slogan “Christian, Socialist and In Solidarity.”

Mr. Ortega’s campaign strategy dismayed Catholic Church leaders, who called his use of spirituality part of a ploy to deceive voters.

Praying for the president

Mr. Chavez describes himself as Catholic, but his religious beliefs are eclectic.

He has at times also expressed faith in folk deities such as Maria Lionza, an indigenous goddess venerated by some Venezuelans who pay homage through candlelit rituals and shrines.

Despite the recent shows of faith, the president has had a rocky relationship with Catholic leaders.

He has accused priests of siding with the country’s wealthy rather than the poor, and in a particularly heated clash in 2010, suggested that Christ would whip some church leaders for lying after Cardinal Jorge Urosa warned that democratic freedoms were being eroded in Venezuela.

Mr. Chavez insists his faith goes back to his days as an altar boy, and long before his illness, he was calling Jesus Christ “the greatest socialist in history.”

Still, his increasing appeals for help from Christ have shown supporters a vulnerable side to a leader who for more than 13 years in office has projected power and vigor.

“We’d forgotten for so long that Chavez is simply a man like any other, a man of flesh and blood,” said Florencia Mijares, an office worker who prayed for the president at a Caracas church.

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