Venezuelan bishops join the people in protest vote against Maduro

Venezuelan bishops join the people in protest vote against Maduro

Over seven million people voted on Sunday in a a symbolic referendum organized by the opposition. Pro-government militias shot at a church where Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino was saying Mass, forcing him into lock-down, together with 200 faithful. One woman was killed and many wounded.

ROME – Over seven million Venezuelans voted on Sunday in an unofficial referendum to reject President Nicolás Maduro’s attempts at re-writing the country’s constitution.

Reflecting the country’s increasingly brittle situation, the day brought both the death of a woman and the taking hostage of a cardinal and some 200 people inside a Catholic church.

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas, was at the Church of Our Lady of Carmen, when pro-Maduro militias forced him and the faithful to find refuge inside. When they were eventually allowed to leave, many were wounded.

A woman, 63-year-old Xiomara Soledad Scott, was killed when men on motorbikes opened fire on the church.

Maduro tried to counter the show of support by the opposition by holding a “practice vote” for his new constitutional assembly at the same time. The actual election is due to take place on July 30.

The Venezuelan bishops strongly supported the referendum, even though, legally speaking, it has no standing because it’s rejected by Maduro. On July 12, the prelates sent out an “Urgent message to Catholics and all people of goodwill.”

Among many things, they said it was a “provocation” from the government to hold the “practice voting,” warning that it could lead to “regrettable conflicts,” which in the end is what happened.

“The people continue to demand the respect of their dignity and rights,” the bishops wrote.

Through Twitter, the communications office of the bishops’ conference shared many pictures of bishops taking part in the referendum, once again taking a clear stance “always on the side of the rights of the people,” as Bishop Jose Luis Azuaje Ayala told Crux last May.

Many of the bishops voted in the unofficial referendum wearing their purple zucchetto in addition to the pectoral cross.

Among those whose pictures were shared was Archbishop Diego Padrón, president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinals Baltazar Enrique Porras and Urosa, and Archbishop Reinaldo del Prette.

Archbishop Ulises Gutiérrez of Bolivar, defined Sunday as the “most important day in recent times,” a day in which “the people of Venezuela expressed its will for a total change in the path the country is taking.”

Inviting people to participate in the popular consultation, he said that it was about the people expressing its will with “sovereignty,” and that the Church, together with “every thinking institution” in the country, wants change.

Pope Francis did not mention the referendum, but as it was taking place, he again mentioned Venezuela at the end of his Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square. Greeting the Venezuelan Catholic community in Italy, he renewed his prayer for this “beloved country.”

With the pontiff’s support, the bishops have long requested the freeing of political prisoners, opening of a humanitarian corridor to allow basic necessities such as food and medicine to enter the country, and for Maduro to allow elections.

On Sunday, after the referendum, Julio Borges, who leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, said that “Venezuela stood up with dignity.

“We don’t want to be Cuba,” he also said. “We don’t want to be a country without freedom.”

In March, the Supreme Court decided it would take over the National Assembly. After much protest and accusations from the opposition of Maduro trying to stage a coup, the decision was reversed. However, soon after Maduro called for a constitutional assembly to re-write a constitution adopted under his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Since then, protests up and down the country have been a daily occurrence. Some 100 people have been killed in clashes stemming from the political conflict. Basic necessities, such as medicine and food, are in short supply.

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