Hard-hit Venezuelan churches forced to accept card donations

A Catholic faithful making a donation with a debit card at La Coromoto Church in Caracas on Sunday. The shortage of cash in Venezuela has forced churches to accept "plastic money" offerings from worshippers.
A Catholic faithful making a donation with a debit card at La Coromoto Church in Caracas on Sunday. The shortage of cash in Venezuela has forced churches to accept "plastic money" offerings from worshippers.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CARACAS • Venezuela's collapsing economy has forced churches and priests to get creative in order to keep their coffers full as four years of recession and a projected one million per cent inflation rate hit everyone hard.

Citizens are limited in the amount of cash - itself almost worthless - they can withdraw from banks each day and, given the minimum monthly salary of around US$1.50 (S$2.07), it doesn't go very far.

"The little cash I have is for the bus ticket," said Ms Gladys Angel, a 58-year-old accountant who also keeps her cash for shopping, where things can cost three times more when paying by card.

Priests have had to adapt and start accepting donations by card payments rather than the traditional passing around of a wicker basket for churchgoers to drop in some coins, or even notes.

Before giving his blessings, Father Alirio Suarez reminds the faithful that they can make donations using a "point of sale", as locals call the payment terminal, which has become as essential in church as the crucifix, chalice and ciborium.

"The payment terminal has not saved us, but it has helped alleviate the situation. People are generous with the payment terminal, you can see the difference," said Father Suarez, of the El Paraiso parish in Caracas.

On Sundays, when there are seven masses and many more faithful in attendance, his San Alfonso church can collect four million bolivars in cash - less than one US dollar on the black market.

"That won't buy you a kilogram of meat," the 53-year-old said. Card payments, however, can triple the amount of cash coming in, although the priest has to borrow the payment terminal from a charity.

The transaction itself takes place in the sacristy, affording parishioners privacy, and perhaps also easing embarrassment for the church.

Venezuela has been crippled by food and medicine shortages and failing public services such as water, electricity and transport.

President Nicolas Maduro's government has finally decided to act - but the decision to shave five zeros off the currency, known as re-denomination, has been roundly criticised by analysts who say it fails to address the root causes of Venezuela's economic meltdown.

In the meantime, bank notes are so scarce, they change hands for three times their face value on the black market.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2018, with the headline 'Hard-hit Venezuelan churches forced to accept card donations'. Print Edition | Subscribe