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Vatican supports new elections to solve Venezuelan crisis

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Negotiations between government and opposition groups in Venezuela, followed by free and fair elections, are needed to put an end to violence and bring relief to the suffering people, a Vatican official said.

In a letter June 13 to six former Latin American heads of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the Holy See continues to follow Pope Francis’ directives and is “trying to help find a solution to the current serious difficulties.”

An opposition supporter holds a rosary as she prays with others during a June 14 rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas. (CNS photo/Christian Veron, Reuters)

An opposition supporter holds a rosary as she prays with others during a June 14 rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas. (CNS photo/Christian Veron, Reuters)

“The Holy See continues to consider that a serious and sincere negotiation between the parties, based on very clear conditions, beginning with the celebration of constitutionally scheduled elections, can solve the serious situation in Venezuela and the suffering to which the population is subjected,” said Cardinal Parolin’s letter.

The Vatican did not release the cardinal’s letter, but it was posted on the blog Sismografo.

Pope Francis had met June 8 with the leadership of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, which requested the meeting as the country’s political and economic crisis became increasingly violent. Since April, anti-government protests have led to the death of some 70 people, both government and opposition supporters.

Cardinal Parolin’s letter came one day after the pope received a letter from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The letter was posted on Twitter June 12 by the Venezuelan government’s press secretary, Ernesto Villegas Poljak.

Although his government’s violent tactics against protesters have been denounced by the Catholic Church in Venezuela, Maduro has tried to claim he had the support of Pope Francis.

In his letter, Maduro defended the government’s handling of the protests, claiming that the violence was caused by an “extreme right-wing” opposition that was “increasingly smaller and, therefore, more and more insane.”

“The forces of darkness have carried out all kinds of vandalism under the sign of the most abject and brutal terrorism, trying to impose a climate of widespread violence on Venezuela,” he said.

Maduro’s accusations contradict statements by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, who told Vatican Radio that “the repression” exercised by Maduro’s government “has been increasingly cruel.”

In addition to official security forces, there are pro-government, armed civilian groups, “which is absolutely criminal, so that the situation is extremely serious and that is why we are here,” he said at the Vatican June 7.

However, the Venezuelan president said his government’s crackdown against protesters was justified following the death of a 17-year-old boy.

Citing Pope Francis’ own words in his letter, Maduro said children should not “be robbed of joy,” and he was certain the pope’s “active and guiding counsel would open a new stage in national dialogue.”

Asking for the pope’s blessing, Maduro said he would follow the example of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in dealing with the opposition.

“There are those who have diverted toward the field of destabilization, terrorism and coup. My task is to bring them toward the field of the constitution and political debate. In this, I am rigorously following the example of Commander Chavez,” Maduro said.

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Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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Catholic News Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Bishops from across Latin America condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages that have left thousands hungry.

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: "Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her." Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages  (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

A protester faces the National Guard during clashes May 10 in Caracas, Venezuela. The motto on his back reads: “Mom, today I went out to defend Venezuela. If I do not come back, I went with her.” Latin American bishops have condemned the ongoing violence in Venezuela and called for the church to find ways to provide charity to the South American country amid food shortages (CNS photo/Miguel Guitierrez, EPA)

“We are worried and pained by the deaths, the violence, the lack of the most basic goods, the divisions, the violation of human rights,” said Auxiliary Juan Espinoza Jimenez of Morelia, Mexico, secretary general of the Latin America bishops’ council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

Bishop Espinoza spoke during CELAM’s assembly in San Salvador, which brought together Catholic representatives from 21 Latin American countries plus delegations from the United States and Canada. The meeting, which ended May 12 and was themed “A poor church for the poor,” dedicated special attention to the situation in Venezuela.

The conference appointed a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission will be headed by Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez of Cumana, Venezuela, president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference.

“The bishops, presidents and delegates of the episcopal conferences of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have placed our minds and hearts with our brothers and sisters in Venezuela,” the bishops said in a letter that was read at the meeting. “We want to express to all citizens, and especially those in the Catholic Church, our closeness, solidarity and support, at the same time that we transmit a voice of hope in Christ, way, truth and life.”

The South American country of 31 million has been besieged by a deep political crisis since President Nicolas Maduro moved to expand his power, including taking over the functions of the opposition-controlled congress and, more recently, pushing for the constitution to be reformed.

Weeks of large-scale street demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, leaving nearly 40 people dead and drawing international condemnation. The country has struggled with a deep economic recession and runaway inflation that has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. A survey by a Venezuelan university found about 75 percent of the population had lost an average of 19 pounds last year because of the lack of food.

Bishops Espinoza urged the church to respond to the crisis by providing supplies. “We call on the diocesan communities of Latin America and the Caribbean to initiate initiatives of charity with our Venezuelan brothers and to think about ways to make them effective, despite obstacles that may arise,” he said.

“The Catholic people of Latin America and the Caribbean know well that, in the most difficult moments of their history, we must turn to God with all pity to move forward,” the letter said, urging all churches to “pray for this brother and sister country for a prompt and definitive reconciliation and social peace.”

Latin American bishops call for help for food-short Venezuela

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