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Now Venezuela Is Running Out of Holy Wine and Altar Bread

Venezuelans were angry when the country ran low on flour and detergent. They were downright pissed when a chronic toilet paper shortage led to a run on Charmin earlier this month. But the latest scarcity to hit thanks to the haphazard economic policies of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, are now threatening the holiest sacraments in a heavily Catholic nation.

Venezuela's Catholic Church warns this morning that its priests may not be able to give communion much longer thanks to a chronic shortage of holy wine and altar bread.

"The church has taken some emergency measures like reducing the amount of wine, even though the amount used in worship has already been significantly reduced," Father Juan Carlos Silva, a local priest, tells the BBC.

It's just the latest embarrassment for Maduro's new government, which has struggled to keep Chavez's socialist programs in place after his death earlier this year.

Last month, the National Assembly voted to import millions of packages of toilet paper from abroad to ease a national shortage, the BBC reports. Now, the church is warning both its key ingredients in communion are in danger.

Many local winemakers have stopped producing altar wine, which has a higher alcohol content than normal vino, and several parishes have already run out.

"We'll soon have to ration it even more and try to find a substitute," Silva tells the BBC.

With wheat flour running low, host bread is also close to running out in many churches.

"There's a problem in terms of raw materials, which would be wheat flour," he says.

Government spokespeople blame the shortages on "panic buying" and "unscrupulous merchants," though it's not clear who would be hoarding altar wine and holy bread other than the Catholic Church itself.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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