BOGOTA, Colombia — Amid a dire political and human-rights crisis in Venezuela, Pope Francis will meet privately with “the bishops of Venezuela present in Colombia” during his trip to South America, according to the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Greg Burke.
After his plane took off for Colombia Sept. 6, the Pope addressed the accredited journalists accompanying him on the flight and asked them to pray for peace in Colombia and for dialogue in Venezuela.
“I would like to tell you that during the flight we will fly over Venezuela,” Pope Francis said. “And so I’m asking you to pray so there can be dialogue, that there will be stability, with dialogue with everyone. Thanks for your work.”
The Pope also thanked journalists “for this work you’ll be doing to accompany me on this trip which is a little special because this is a trip to also help Colombia to go forward on its path of peace. I’m asking for your prayers for this during the trip.”
Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas told CNA the bishops of Venezuela would “express to the Pope the affection of the Venezuelan people for the successor of Peter.”
“Also, of course, we’re going to converse with the Pope, we’re going to thank him for the support he’s giving to the Venezuelan people in such difficult circumstances that we’re going through, and also we’re going to express our concerns regarding some problems of the current situation,” he said.
Cardinal Urosa noted that Venezuela is currently going through “an extremely serious situation, a situation of poverty, of great distress.”
“Those of us who are inside the country are living through extremely distressing circumstances and great political unrest, of difficulty because of the shortage of food. There are people who simply and quite frankly aren’t eating or are eating very poorly, and the shortage of medicine. It’s shameful that there is no medicine in Venezuela.”
“But on top of that there is a situation of ongoing turmoil and angst over the trampling of the rights of a great many Venezuelans in various circumstances,” he said.
Venezuela is in the midst of escalating protests and violence, as President Nicolás Maduro has suppressed opposition and democracy activists, and moved to seize legislative power in the country. The results of a July 30 election convened by Maduro have been dismissed as illegitimate by the United States and several other nations, and a burgeoning economic crisis has led to widespread chaos.
Cardinal Urosa reflected on the fact that “a great many Venezuelans have had to migrate due to the adverse circumstances and that that is always something very painful.”
“But thanks be to God those Venezuelans are very concerned about the country, are praying for Venezuela and are united in asking God that we may be able to resolve our conflicts in a peaceful manner,” he stressed.
Despite the crisis Venezuela is facing, Cardinal Urosa encouraged the faithful to not lose hope.
“We have to hope against all hope. We have to certainly trust in God Our Lord and we have to act.”
The archbishop lamented that often “the people get discouraged and don’t feel like taking action anymore. I’m not talking about fomenting violence but about defending our rights and the rights of others.”
The cardinal encouraged the faithful to “organize ourselves, seek to express our discontent, support the people that are suffering, support those who are imprisoned, support the people who are toiling away. We’ve got to do all this and not start complaining in an absolutely ineffective and frustrating way.”
Role of the Church
During his homily at a Mass celebrated this week, Cardinal Urosa stressed the critical role of the Venezuelan bishops in opposing government actions for years before the current crisis broke out.
“During 1999, 2000, there was silence, nobody was criticizing the government, no one way saying anything, we Venezuelan bishops pointed to a series of very serious failures by the government and that’s why the president [Hugo Chavez] attacked us,” he recalled.
“Our interest has always been in working for and defending our people,” he pointed out, since “we want to be good shepherds.”
The cardinal then told CNA that the Venezuelan bishops “fulfilled our duty as good shepherds. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep, the good shepherd seeks the welfare of his sheep, the good shepherd does not want his sheep to be mistreated, and all this we’re doing and we will continue to do because that’s our duty.”
“May the Lord hear our prayers and may we be able to quickly resolve this terrible situation that we’re going through.”