Amid nation's crisis, Venezuelan bishops meet pope

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — With Venezuela’s political and
economic crisis turning violent and after the country’s president tried to
claim he had the
support of Pope Francis, the leadership of the country’s bishops’ conference
traveled to the Vatican.

The bishops requested the meeting, which was held June 8 as protests continued
in their homeland and protesters continued to die. Since April, close to 70
people — both government supporters and supporters of the opposition — have
been killed in the protests.

The Vatican listed the meeting in its daily bulletin but
provided no information.

On the eve of their meeting with the pope, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of
Caracas told Vatican Radio that “the repression” exercised by the
government of President
Nicolas Maduro “has been increasingly cruel.”

In addition to official security forces, he said, 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.”

Pope Francis, he said, not only has urged prayers for the
country publicly, but also has urged dialogue and a negotiated settlement to
the political crisis and has encouraged Maduro’s government to allow in food
and medicine to help Venezuelans suffering from runaway inflation.

Pope Francis had asked Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who was a Vatican
diplomat before becoming president of the then-Pontifical Council for Social
Communications, to serve as a Vatican facilitator to support the mediation
attempted by the Union of
South American Nations. The efforts led to two meetings — in October
and November — of representatives of the government and of 17 opposition
parties. A third meeting, originally scheduled for December, repeatedly has
been postponed.

Before the scheduled December meeting, Cardinal Pietro Parolin,
Vatican secretary of state, wrote a letter to all parties involved expressing
concern that the negotiations were not being taken seriously.

Cardinal Parolin outlined several steps that the Vatican
believed were urgent: solving “the severe crisis in the supply of food and
medicines affecting the people”; reaching an agreement on a timetable for
elections; restoring the authority of the country’s parliament, which was disbanded
by Maduro’s Supreme Court; and releasing political prisoners.

“These are very serious problems that the government
has not resolved and that is precisely why people are demonstrating in the
streets and have been repressed with a cruelty that is really unusual and
unnecessary,” Cardinal Urosa told Vatican Radio.

Instead of restoring the parliament, Maduro has suggested
convoking a constitutional assembly to rewrite the constitution. The bishops’
conference has opposed the move, which led Maduro in early May to claim that
the bishops were not listening to Pope Francis’ wishes for a negotiated
settlement to the crisis.

The Maduro government’s idea for a constitutional assembly,
Cardinal Urosa said, is an attempt to impose “a minority that currently supports
it over the majority of the population that is rejecting it.”

The bishops came to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, the
cardinal said, “to seek the voice of the pastor and to help the Venezuelan
people solve the grave situation they are currently living.”

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