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Cardinal Jorge Urosa has deplored a call from the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, for his civilian militia supporters to confront protestors who have erected blockades on roads around Caracas.
“The use of force is reserved by law for the use of the security forces,” said the cardinal. “The intervention of these groups to suppress the protests is not only illegal, it's also extremely dangerous.”
More than 20 people have died in a month of protests against the Maduro Government by people who say they are tired of high inflation, undemocratic policies and rising crime rates.
The Archbishop of Coro, Roberto Luckert, has written an open letter to Mr Maduro reminding him he must unite people rather than divide them.
“Mr President, call for dialogue but lower your fist,” said the archbishop.
“Tone down your aggression, call for dialogue and understand that you are president and you have a very grave problem on your hands because those who protest have something to discuss with you, to demand from you and it’s something that you must resolve.”
Last week the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States, José Miguel Insulza, cited the Church as a possible external mediator to end the month-long crisis.
Meanwhile church officials reported several churches have been “attacked by violent groups” amid the protests, even during Mass.
Mgr Victor Hugo Basabe, undersecretary of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, told the missionary news agency Fides protestors disrupted a Mass in Mérida and police attacked a priest, Fr José Palmar, during a march in Maracaibo last month.
Bishop Rafael Conde of the northern diocese of Maracay said two churches there had been vandalised, and at one, Our Lady of La Candelaria in la Otra Banda de La Victoria, the tabernacle was destroyed, consecrated hosts were thrown to the ground, the niche of the crucified Christ was damaged and the stereo system was stolen.
Above: Women in a Caracas suburb pray at an altar to "St Hugo Chavez", a reference to Maduro's late predecessor, as protests polarise the country. Photo: CNS/Reuters