ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — An urgent appeal for peace was made by the bishops of Paraguay after hundreds of demonstrators set fire to the National Congress building in Asuncion on the night of March 31.
In a statement signed March 31, the Paraguayan Bishops’ Conference urged that there “be no more wars between brothers! Let us always work for peace!”
The violent demonstrations in Asunción occurred when a group of legislators approved a constitutional amendment which would allow the reelection of the President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes.
In a surprise move, and holding the vote behind closed doors, 25 senators supported the controversial measure. The opposition has called the measure illegal, a coup d’état.
So far, the riots have left at least one dead, many more injured – including legislators, police and protesters – and 200 people arrested.
“At this critical time for our homeland, we bishops of Paraguay make an urgent appeal for peace,” the Bishops’ Conference stated in their communiqué.
“We observe with sorrow the public confrontation and want to call on everyone: The authorities and the people. Let’s not use violence, protect everyone’s life, so the demonstrations don’t turn into a battlefield. Let us respect life!”
The bishops urged both the citizens and government to look “not only at the motivations for your actions but also the consequences, and act with due common sense.
“We urge the leaders and political representatives to win the people’s trust with concrete gestures of encounter, dialogue and transparency, respecting the process in which freedom and the possibility to act are not constrained by the urgency of political procedures,” they continued.
Finally, the Paraguayan bishops encouraged a dialogue between all parties because “peace requires the culture of encounter, the search for the common good, national unity.
“We want a fraternal country where we work for that daily peace, as Pope Francis exhorted at the beginning of his visit to our country in 2015. Let’s make it possible. Let’s not let this get out of hand. ‘A family divided cannot stand,’” the bishops concluded.
Francis said in his Sunday Angelus message that he is following “with close attention everything that is going on in Venezuela and Paraguay. I pray for their people, very beloved by me, and I invite everyone to persevere tirelessly, avoiding all violence, in the search for a political solution.”
After the pope’s message, Cartes posted a message on his social media in which he proposed holding immediate discussions with a representative of the bishops’ conference, the opposition, the political parties, the legislature, and the executive branch.
“I value immensely that His Holiness is following attentively the events in my homeland and I share his conviction that violence can never be the way to work for the good. Political solutions must be made within the institutional framework,” the president said.
Meanwhile, the Paraguayan bishops thanked “the pope for his love and concern for the situation our homeland is going through right now.
“At the same time, we welcome with hope the call made on television by the President of the Republic for a dialogue among the political actors, among whom are included the Paraguayan Bishops’ Conference,” they added.
“We recognize the value of this call as a response to the pope’s request for the search for political solutions which is the responsibility of all actors of the representative bodies of our nation.”
The statement signed by the president of the Paraguayan Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Edmundo Valenzuela Mellid, also indicates that in this effort they must avoid “all violence.”