Pope Francis has said he is "terrified of a bloodbath" in Venezuela but it is not his role to take sides in the political crisis.
Speaking to journalists on board the papal plane returning from Panama to Italy on Sunday, Francis said he wants a "just and peaceful" solution to the crisis in Venezuela that respects human rights and avoids suffering.
But he said it would be a "pastoral imprudence" for him to take sides in the standoff between self-declared President Juan Guaidó and President Nicolas Maduro.
"If I were to enter and say 'Do this' to those countries, or to other countries, I would put myself in a role that I do not know. It would be a pastoral imprudence on my part and would do damage," he told reporters.
Britain, France, Germany and Spain have said they will recognise Guaidó as the country's legitimate President unless Nicolas Maduro calls elections within eight days.
Juan Guaidó, the elected head of Venezuela’s parliament, proclaimed himself interim president on 23 January amidst street protests in opposition to Maduro.
The US, Canada, Israel, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru recognised the young leader in quick succession. By Saturday 26 January, Venezuela’s most senior military envoy in Washington, Col José Luis Silva, had announced that he had broken with the Maduro government and recognised Guaidó as interim president.
Venezuela’s armed forces said in a statement that his move was the “act of a traitor and a coward”.
Guaidó has called on the army to withdraw their support for Maduro. Yesterday (27 January) he appealed to them: “do not shoot at the people”. The opposition are said to be intending to stage mass protests against the government this week. Over 20 people are believed to have died in protests last week.
The Venezuelan Catholic bishops’ conference released a statement before the January 23 protests, saying that recent developments show that positive changes are taking place in Venezuela to promote the “integral human development of every person, but always within democracy and following the National Constitution.”
The bishops’ conference’s Justice and Peace Commission called for “the diverse bodies of state security respect the citizens demonstrating today,” citing their right to be free from “violent repression, arbitrary detentions, cruel treatment, and the use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations.”
Numerous bishops are said to have participated in the opposition marches.
On Sunday, Pope Francis prayed that a peaceful solution may be found in Venezuela as uncertainty and political instability grip the country. After praying the Angelus the pope said he is "united with the people of Venezuela in these days."
"In front of the grave situation (Venezuela) is going through, I ask the Lord that a just and peaceful solution may be sought and achieved to overcome the crisis," he said.
"Respecting human rights and particularly hoping for the good of all the inhabitants of the country, I invite you to pray, placing this intercession under the protection of Our Lady of Coromoto, patroness of Venezuela," the pope said.
Guiadó is from the central state of Vargas and was a founding member of the "Popular Will" party in 2009. He is basing his claim to the presidency on several clauses of the 1999 Constitution, specifically Article 233 which established that the leader of National Assembly will hold office in the absence of a legitimate President.
Maduro was declared the winner of contested elections in May 2018 but numerous countries around the world refused to recognise the elections results. Nonetheless, he was sworn in on 10 January, setting off the current political crisis.
Maduro has been president since 2013 and is widely believed to have destroyed the country’s economy. Inflation is at one million per cent and basic goods are unaffordable. An estimated three million people have been forced to flee the country since 2014.