The Fars News Agency defended officials’ allowing Chavez to visit the shrine, saying in part that the Venezuelan leader “believes that Jesus Christ will come along with Imam Mahdi to fill the world with justice.” The Mahdi is the Shi’ite Messiah, whose pending return is anticipated by Chavez’s friend, the Iranian President. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lectured the U.N. General Assembly on numerous occasions about the Mahdi. Ahmadinejad believes the Mahdi will usher in an era in which all nations will convert to Islam, resulting in world peace.

Recently, native Venezuelans shamans wearing parrot feathers and beads also held a healing ritual for Chavez at a Caracas plaza in May, performing traditional dances and chants, and kneeling on the ground in prayer. “The objective is to inject the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution with positive energy,” said Jesus Antonio Juagivioy, a chieftain from the president’s home state of Barinas who participated in the ceremony. “We pray for his total recuperation and we know the spirits of our ancestors will help.”

Chavez is certainly not the first Latin American Marxist to proclaim his Christian faith. In 2011, Nicaragua’s longtime Communist leader Daniel Ortega suddenly proclaimed his Christian faith during his re-election bid. His campaign rallies often included religious processions, chants and his campaign slogan “Christian, Socialist and In Solidarity.”

“Ortega’s campaign strategy dismayed Catholic Church leaders,” reported the Associated Press, “who called his use of spirituality part of a ploy to deceive voters.”