Guevara y Lira, Silvestre

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Fifth archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela, who fought the secularizing laws of Guzmán Blanco; b. Chamariapa, Anzoátegui, Dec. 31, 1814; d. Caracas, Feb. 20, 1882. Having been vicar-general of the old Diocese of Guayana and senator in the National Congress, Guevara was consecrated archbishop of Caracas on Feb. 6, 1853. The first 17 years of his episcopate were characterized by fruitful activity in which he commanded respect and admiration. Guevara completely restored the cathedral, in ruins since the earthquake of 1812. He reorganized the studies and the discipline of the seminary and thus raised the prestige of the clergy. He succeeded in getting the Venezuelan government to accept a concordat with the Holy See and went to Rome to sign it as the representative named by the government. Unfortunately, Venezuela did not ratify that concordat because of a sudden change in government when the federal revolution triumphed. In 186970, Guevara attended Vatican Council I.

For the next 12 years, during the regime of Antonio Guzmán Blanco, Guevara was the focus of the most serious political-religious conflicts in the history of Venezuela. A disagreement over the date on which a Te Deum requested by the government was to be celebrated was the opportunity and the pretext for the president to expel Guevara from the country on 24 hours' notice. However, the autocratic ruler still had to contend with the courage with which the archbishop sustained the rights of his position during seven years in exile. Other ecclesiastical dignitaries making common cause with the archbishop also suffered exile and severe criticism. Exasperated with the determination of the prelate, President Guzmán began a series of persecuting actions: he closed all of the convents and confiscated the property of the nuns; he closed the seminaries and revoked the autonomy of the university courses in ecclesiastical studies; he secularized the cemeteries; he substituted civil registration for ecclesiastical as a previous condition to Baptism and Matrimony; he established civil marriage, for which he declared priests legally competent; and, finally, he tried to create a national church separate from Rome.

Such a deplorable situation became more serious because the archdiocese was without a pastor. Since Guzmán continued his pressures, the pope, through an apostolic delegate, suggested to Guevara that he make the sacrifice of resigning so that a new archbishop could be named. With great humility and understanding, the archbishop presented his resignation to the pope. In November of 1876, the new archbishop of Caracas was consecrated.

In 1877, with the end of Guzmán's regime, the new president authorized the return of Guevara. The reception that Caracas accorded the famous exile was moving. The prelate spent the last five years of his life surrounded by affection and widespread veneration of the faithful.

Bibliography: h. fanger, Silvestre Guevara y Lira (Washington 1907). Apoteósis del Ilmo. Silvestre Guevara y Lira (Caracas 1907). m. watters, A History of the Church in Venezuela (Chapel Hill 1933). n. e. navarro, Anales eclesiásticos Venezolanos (2d ed. Caracas 1951).

[p. p. barnola]