Pope meets senior Venezuelan bishops to discuss country engulfed in crisis

08 June 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

As the first Latin American Pope, Francis holds considerable sway across the continent and has repeatedly called for an end to violence

Pope Francis today met senior bishops from Venezuela in the Vatican to discuss the political and economic crisis engulfing the country. 

This morning (8 June), the Argentinian pontiff welcomed the leadership of the country’s bishops’ conference, who had requested a meeting with Francis to discuss the situation in their country. 

The Pope has been concerned about the dire situation in Venezuela sparked by the country’s faltering oil industry and political turmoil. Hyperinflation has caused food and medicine shortages while at least 37 have been killed during two months of protests. Opposition demonstrators want to unseat socialist President Nicolas Maduro holding him responsible for the crisis along with his charismatic left-wing predecessor Hugo Chavez. 

As the first Latin American Pope, Francis holds considerable sway across the continent and has repeatedly called for an end to violence; respect for human rights and a peaceful solution borne out of dialogue. Last October, the Pope was asked to help mediate in the situation and, in December 2016, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, set out conditions for talks between the two sides.

Cardinal Parolin, a former Papal ambassador to the country, said these included holding elections; the release of political prisoners; re-opening the Venezuelan parliament, and opening up channels for aid. These conditions were not met and the Pope then said the Holy See could not continue its intervention. 

There is a danger that Francis could be caught in the middle between the bitterly divided sides. While President Maduro has welcomed the Pope’s plea for dialogue, he would also like to present a “left-wing” Francis against the “right-wing” bishops. 

Among those attending the meeting this morning was Cardinal Urosa, who has been an outspoken critic of the Maduro regime, telling the American Catholic news site, Crux, that the president must “not insist on wanting to impose a socialist, communist, Marxist, totalitarian and militaristic system as a regime of government.” 

The cardinal stressed the bishop were “fully united’ with Francis while accusing Maduro of manipulating what the Pope says and the religiosity of the Venezuelan people by presenting himself as a “pious, fervent man.”

Intriguingly, Cardinal Urosa was among those who signed an unprecedented letter criticising the Pope during the during the October 2015 synod of bishops meeting. That letter complained of a move in a more progressive direction in regards to the Church’s marriage and family life teaching.  

In November 2016 however, Cardinal Urosa saw his influence neutralised when the Pope named a second Venezuelan cardinal, the Archbishop Baltazar Porras of Mérida. Cardinal Porras, who was part of the delegation meeting the Pope in the Vatican’s apostolic palace today, has been an outspoken critic of both Maduro and Chavez. 

Also meeting the Pope today was Bishop Diego Padrón, President of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Mario Moronta, one of the vice-presidents, and Bishop Victor Hugo Basabe, the secretary-general. 

PICTURE: Venezuelan Catholics hold crosses with names of people who died during protests in Venezuela, during the Regina Coeli prayer led by Pope Francis in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican in early May of this year


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