July 31, 2001

Catholics close 7 Venezuelan churches after explosion

                 CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Seven Roman Catholic churches in the
                 capital were closed Tuesday in protest after a small bomb explosion in a
                 downtown church last week injured a woman and explosives were found in
                 two other places of worship.

                 In a statement, Caracas Archbishop Cardinal Ignacio Velasco said the move was
                 to protest a "flagrant aggression, not only against Catholic hierarchy but against
                 the entire Catholic community." The decision to close the churches is
                 unprecedented in deeply Catholic Venezuela, where explosions are rare.

                 The churches would reopen August 4, the statement said.

                 Police have yet to arrest anyone for the explosion, which injured a 25-year-old
                 bank worker and destroyed a confessional in the colonial San Francisco church.

                   Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.