Caracas: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attended Mass on Tuesday, joining friends and aides in praying for his recovery after undergoing cancer surgery.
Chavez expressed confidence he will bounce back, promising supporters at an earlier event that he plans to remain in the presidency and accelerate his drive for socialism in Venezuela.
At the Mass held in Caracas' Military Academy, Chavez led a brief prayer and then closed his eyes as he listened to a priest speak. The priest, Mario Moronta, said he would administer the sacrament of anointing the sick to Chavez.
"Often times, when one goes to a house where there is a sick person or to a hospital, many people get scared because it used to be called extreme unction, when there was nothing more to be done," the priest said. But he added that the sacrament is now seen as being "for the sick or elderly person to have strength... to beat the illness”.
Moronta, who is a personal friend of Chavez, explained the sacrament saying he would apply "the oil of strength" to the President.
"There is no need to be afraid. Six years ago they did it to me twice. I was more there than here, and look where I am," Moronta said. "Sometimes I myself have seen people who have stood up from their sick bed in a moment of difficulty because it's celebrated with faith."
He made a cross in oil on Chavez's forehead. Visibly moved, the President put his palms together and hugged the priest.
Chavez was once an altar boy but has clashed in recent year with some Roman Catholic leaders in Venezuela, accusing them of lying about his government. Nevertheless, he says he remains a Christian and believes Jesus stood for principles similar to those of socialism.
Earlier in the day, Chavez assured supporters that he is doing better after the June 20 surgery in Cuba and intends "to accompany you for many years more”.
"The opposition and the counterrevolution are crying out that Chavez is done for, that he's dying... that he'll have to hand over, that the transition is coming," Chavez said on state television, speaking in a phone call to a ceremony at a state-run university.
"Well, I'm going to tell you, with the grace of God and the will that we have, we're going to rise above all of this," Chavez added. "The only transition that's under way and that we have to accelerate and consolidate is the transition from the capitalist model ... to the socialist model."
It was the latest in a series of appearances by Chavez, who a day earlier was filmed doing stretching exercises with aides and military officers.
"One, two, three," Chavez said, wearing a warm-up suit as he led the group twisting side-to-side and swinging his arms in circles. Footage of the exercise session was aired on state television shortly before Tuesday's Mass.
Chavez, who is up for re-election in December 2012, has been actively posting messages on Twitter and has appeared on television in the past several days addressing troops and leading a Cabinet meeting.
Chavez has said he underwent surgery in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumour from his pelvic region. Chavez hasn't said what type of cancer is involved.
Since his return to Caracas on July 04, the 56-year-old President has slowed his normally heavy agenda and has limited the length of his televised speeches, saying he is under strict orders from his doctors.
Still, Chavez's voice seemed strong as he launched into a song by Venezuelan folk singer Ali Primera during his call on Tuesday. He excused himself after about 15 minutes, saying it was time to have a snack, followed by "physical rehabilitation and ... treatment”.
Chavez told his audience at the tuition-free Bolivarian University that his illness has made him more determined than ever.
"I promise you I will live, we will live and triumph," Chavez told the students and professors, who responded with applause.
Chavez, a former Army paratroop commander, said his rehabilitation regime has required discipline, including waking up at 5 am.
That is a significant change for a President who used to speak regularly late into the night while drinking cup after cup of coffee.
"I've become a cadet once again, and I see the sunrise," Chavez said. "I had forgotten the sunrises. It had been a long time since I had seen a sunrise."
First Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2011, 09:15