ROME — After an opposition-organized referendum led some 7.2 million people in Venezuela to express their rejection of the national government, the Vatican’s Secretary of State once again voiced his support for the local bishops, condemning the siege of which a cardinal was victim.
On Sunday, most of the bishops joined their flock and voted against President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal to re-write the country’s constitution. Many of them shared their experience through social media, in an attempt to encourage others to vote.
A day after the referendum, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent him a letter, saying that on Sunday he had prayed for “a peaceful and democratic solution for the country,” and “for the authorities to hear the people’s clamors for freedom, reconciliation, peace and material and spiritual well-being, particularly for the poorest and most disadvantaged.”
Knowing that Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino was trapped in a church with hundreds of faithful after pro-Maduro militias terrorized the neighboring area, Parolin also reference the event.
Parolin, former papal representative in Venezuela, wrote that he “strongly condemned the siege and the violence,” and expressed his closeness to the prelate and all those who were “attacked” in the Church of Carmen.
The prelate and the faithful were besieged in the church after militias in motorcycles began shooting at people waiting in line to cast symbolic votes in the referendum, which even though it was organized by the country’s National Assembly, has no legal standing.
Although original reports were confusing, Urosa told Crux via email that the church wasn’t used as a voting station, but there was one in a street nearby. He was there as Archbishop of Caracas, to celebrate Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Carmen, marked every July 16.
The referendum came after months of protests in Venezuela. Some 100 people have been killed since unrest broke out in April. To date, only one of the victims was killed by the protesters, who thought the young man had infiltrated the rally. Talking about his death in June, Urosa said it “has no justification, it is a crime.”
The Vatican has long sided with the bishops in their protests against the Maduro government. Though they claim to be “with the people” and not part of the opposition, the bishops have long supported the convocation to national elections as the solution to the country’s long-standing crisis, where basic products, including food and medicine, have been in shortage for some time.
On Tuesday, a day after Parolin’s letter, Maduro once again criticized the hierarchy of the Venezuelan church. During a nationally televised address, he said that, “We are not the Christians of the traitorous cardinals who serve the capitalists and perverts of the world.”
Maduro has often sought to demonize the local bishops. For instance, last May, he accused the prelates of “ignoring” Pope Francis’s “orders” for dialogue.