What would Hugo Chávez think of Pope Francis?

(Photo: Reuters / Enrique Garcia Medina)Then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina washes the feet of patients of the Hogar de Cristo shelter for drug users, during a Holy Thursday mass in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires, March 20, 2008. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, who has become the first pope born outside Europe in 1,300 years, quietly left the Vatican early on March 14, 2013, barely 12 hours after his election to pray for guidance as he looks to usher a Roman Catholic Church mired in intrigue and scandal into a new age of simplicity and humility. Picture taken March 20, 2008.

Many will remember Hugo Chávez for his antics, his strong words, folksy humor and his anti-imperialistic rants.

But few can recall him as a religious man of spiritual words, who was able to gather support from Evangelical Christians.

So what would he have made of Pope Francis I, a new global champion of the poor.

Chávez left Venezuela with his own brand of socialism after his 14-years rule before he died aged 58 on March 5.

But the man who aims to win election to succeed him believes he played a role in the election of Francis.

Interim Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, said on State television at a book fair on Wednesday that the election of Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was linked to prayers from Chávez shows a video carried by Huffington Post .

He said on State television that Francis won the election after being the best- prepared candidate and due to Chávez talking to Jesus personally and hooking the cardinal up.

"We know that our commander ascended to the heights and is face to face with Christ," said Maduro. "Something influenced the choice of a South American pope, someone new arrived at Christ's side and said to him: 'Well, it seems to us South America's time has come.'"

After his landslide victory on Dec. 3 Chávez had said, "The Kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of love, of peace; the kingdom of justice, of solidarity, brotherhood, the kingdom of socialism. This is the kingdom of the future of Venezuela.

Even in death Chávez was mourned by the Evangelical pastor Alexis Romero Valera in a eulogy commemorating his life and meaning was seen on a video posted to Youtube.

It's no surprise that governments may use religion to manipulate the public or gather support; but it matters as to what extent, and who is benefitting.

At the time some Evangelicals sided with Chávez's social message and anti U.S. government fervor. Chávez's later actions and words seem to suggest a preference for Evangelicals.

In the Gospel According to Hugo, David Smilde writes that Chávez's religious feelings were similar to the average Venezuelan, who carry a lively belief, but do not necessarily practice in a formal setting.

Venezuelans, he says, take words and images from Christian, Afro Venezuelan, and indigenous traditions to meet real personal issues.

But it is from memos given to Wikileaks that some interesting revelations come. These were gleaned from U.S. Embassy cables sent from Caracas.

If true they reveal that the Venezuelan government catered to Evangelical Christians, to build the support base of President Chávez in order to win his August 2004 recall referendum.

In that same year neo-pentecostal groups received $400,000 from the government to organize two huge rallies for Chávez "Clamor for Venezuela" and "Million Prayers for Peace."

Organizers at the rallies, who claimed to speak for the entire evangelical movement, threw their support for the socialist government. In a 40-minute speech, Chávez called Christ the "the original commandant" and himself, a "soldier of Christ," according to Smilde.

After winning the presidency, the Bolivarian Socialist became closer to the Evangelicals, writes Smilde.

Part of the reason he abandoned Catholics was due in part for their criticism around religious freedom, educational control and refusing to eradicate abortion.

Chávez was a practicing Catholic who promoted liberation theology.

This holds that priests should help the poor by working for political and social change, something that the new Pope, Francis, might sign up to.

Chávez intensely disliked what he saw as a conservative Catholic hierarchy in Rome or in Caracas.

He viewed Venezuela's Catholic Church as a power base that opposed his socialist revolution and he insulted leading Catholic for being ingnorant and distorting the truth.

He did not endear himself to the Catholic Church after its State subsidy was cut by 80 percent in 1999.

The Wiki cable notes that only nine percent or fewer than two million people make up Venezuela's Evangelical population and "like many of his efforts to incorporate segments of Venezuelan society into Chavismo, Chávez's attempt to win over Evangelicals is poorly planned and executed, based more on payoffs than conviction."

The Evangelical movement was troubled by "post-modernism," seeing it to have slack personal morals with an undue importance for money and power, said Samuel Olson, President of the Evangelical Council of Venezuela (ECV), in the wiki cable.

Olson claimed that many Evangelicals were given resources and money.

He said he spoke with an ECV pastor, who was offered housing and pension benefits, in exchange for supporting Chávez. The State television station broadcasts two free programs of popular evangelical ministers State, which also carry government advertisements.

One, a Bishop Perez described his support for Chávez "as one of a common social agenda". As a child, Perez lived on the streets of Caracas, and viewed Chávez as "an answer to his prayer."

He mentioned, "The Catholic Church used its influence with previous governments to persecute Evangelicals."

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