Charismatic Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made an emotional plea this week that put his health and political future in the spotlight, begging God "don't take me yet" at an Easter mass after months of brave faces and reassuring words.
A day after arriving home from Cuba where he is undergoing a second round of radiation for recurrence of cancer he said he thought he had beaten, Chavez attended Holy Thursday mass in his home state of Barinas, and let loose an emotional public appeal to the heavens.
Flanked by family members in his political home, Chavez, 57, wore a rosary around his neck, and with his voice breaking, asked God: "Please don't take me yet.
"Give me your crown of thorns, Christ, I will bleed; Give me your cross, 100 crosses -- and I will carry them for you. But give me life, because I still have things to do for my people and my country."
After more than a year of confident words from the gregarious and tough-talking president, it was a stunning turning of the political page: Chavez acknowledged the possibility of a future without him.
"In that extremely moving moment, he has acknowledged there is a chance he will be leaving the political arena," sociologist Carlos Raul Hernandez of the Central University of Venezuela told AFP. "He was in an emotionally desperate state."
Chavez also broke into tears Thursday at the same church in Barinas accompanied by his parents, children and other family members. He explained later that emotions caused by the proximity of his loved ones had overwhelmed him and he could not hold back tears.
"It was a spontaneous, sentimental thing," Chavez said on Friday. "My father and mother stood next to me. And suddenly we took each other's hands. My mom gave me her hand with such tenderness... And because of this tears rolled down my face."
Political analyst Carmen Beatriz Fernandez of pollsters Dataestrategia agreed: "The veil of silence and mystery about his illness is now off," she said.
"It was like a medical report... He has made it clear his illness is fatal."
President Chavez was scheduled to return to Cuba today for a third round of radiotherapy to treat a recurrence of his cancer.
Picture credit to Taringa