ROME – Each individual life taken during protests against the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela was “worth more than a revolution,” the bishops of the country said on Saturday.

The bishops’ conference of the South American nation has been holding its July 7-11 general assembly.

The Venezuelan people are speaking, said Archbishop José Luis Azuaje, with thousands of “daily protests” that show the great “discontent that exists before the submission to improvisations” by the government, which indicate a “lack of rationality and expertise of decision makers.”

“These protests indicate the failure of a model that the people have been denouncing at the top of their lungs, and for many years,” said Azuaje, the head of the conference. “But when a fuse has been lit, it won’t go out, it becomes stronger towards its final destination: Integral liberation.”

A fundamental factor for the country to overcome the crisis, he said, is the reconstruction of social leadership, even at a grassroots level. This, he said, will not be “instantaneous,” but a collective effort that wins small battles until “we manage to turn back the evil that creates a society of the needy.”

“Venezuela won’t be rebuilt piecemeal, nor can it wait until every proposal [to do so] is tried out … hence the need for unity, of looking each other face-to-face, of searching for common ground,” he said.

Azuaje also said that citizens have the “democratic weapon of resistance,” which Christians are called to use with goodness.

The archbishop also noted that the impoverished situation of the country has mobilized the “offices of service” of the Catholic Church even further, as these have had to provide “food, education and health,” at times acting as a “substitute” for tasks that are of the duty of the government.

According to Azuaje, thousands of people go to various Caritas offices asking for help, and “so many times the demand is more than what can be offered, because we lack the necessary resources to tend to this humanitarian emergency created by the nefarious politics of impoverishment.”

He also used the opportunity to thank the network of Caritas Internationalis, the international humanitarian arm of the Church, which through its subsidiaries in Latin America and the Caribbean has provided aid in coordination with the bishops’ conferences of neighboring countries.

“Thank you for the brotherhood, and for making us aware that we are not alone in this struggle to bring life and dignity to our people,” Azuaje said.

Hundreds of Venezuelans died last year in clashes between peaceful protesters and government forces. In addition, hundreds of thousands have fled the country searching for a better life.

In May, with the help of the Migrant and Refugee Section of the Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, eight bishops’ conferences in Latin America joined efforts to assist Venezuelans.

The two-year pastoral program is called “Bridges of Solidarity,” and according to a Vatican statement released at the time, it seeks to “find common solutions to the challenges posed by the massive flow of Venezuelans, who have decided to move to another South American country in recent years.”

Bishops from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru forged a coordinated action plan to offer needed services to Venezuelans, other vulnerable migrants and the local communities that host them.

Referring to recent national elections, which have been denounced as fraudulent by many in the international community, the archbishop said that they had generated “more doubts than certainties.”

“We live without hope in an unfair situation that is drowning us,” he said.

“But love always conquers, that love that is nailed to the cross, in the crucified that this perverse ideology and system of government continue to generate,” Azuaje said. “But faced with this, we need to remember that love always wins and that it has already won from the cross, from the Crucified.”