ROME — Pope Francis has reached out to the Venezuelan people “sorely tried by the sufferings caused by the scourge of the pandemic” and by “the arrogance of the powerful,” Vatican News reported Thursday.
The pope wrote a personal letter this week to Venezuelan Cardinal Baltazar Porras Cardozo, in which he expressed his closeness to the Venezuelan people and his condolences for their trials.
In his letter to Cardinal Porras Cardozo, who is archbishop of Merida and apostolic administrator of Caracas, the pontiff invoked God’s blessings on the troubled nation.
“May God continue to give you strength and fearless speech so that with the heart of a father you may know how to accompany and comfort your faithful holy people, sorely tried by the sufferings caused by the scourge of the pandemic, by the arrogance of the powerful, and by the growing poverty that is strangling them,” the pope wrote.
In its report, Vatican News noted that Venezuela has been “the victim of a heavy humanitarian and socio-economic crisis, aggravated today by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Francis also congratulated Cardinal Porras Cardozo for the celebration on his “name day,” which was celebrated on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6. According to a tradition dating back to the sixth century, one of the three Magi who adored the child Jesus in Bethlehem was named “Balthazar.”
This week the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference (CEV) held its annual assembly, carried out virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In early January 2019, the Venezuelan bishops released a forceful statement denouncing the rigged election of President Nicolás Maduro as “illegitimate,” while warning that his inauguration initiated an era of arbitrary rule in the beleaguered nation.
“We are faced with arbitrary rule, without respect for the guarantees laid down in the Constitution or the highest principles of the dignity of the people,” the bishops said.
As a result, “the claim to be initiating a new presidential term of office on 10 January 2019 is illegitimate in its origin and opens the door to the non-recognition of the government, since it lacks democratic support in justice and law,” they said.
While the bishops and other world leaders declared dictator Nicolás Maduro’s presidency null and void, Pope Francis sought not to alienate Maduro and even sent a Vatican representative to attend his inauguration while other nations boycotted the event in protest.
Shortly afterward, twenty former Latin America heads of state and government, including Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias, wrote a letter to the pope complaining of his ambiguous stance vis-à-vis Maduro.
“We are concerned about the call of your Holiness to social harmony,” the letter stated, “because in the present context it can be understood as asking the countries who are victims to be in concord with their oppressors, in particular, in the case of Venezuela, with a government that has produced 3 million refugees.”
In early February, 2019, Maduro sent a letter to Pope Francis asking the pontiff to “facilitate and reinforce dialogue” as more world leaders abandon the dictator in favor of his opponent, Juan Guaido.
“I sent a letter to Pope Francis, I hope it is on his way or that it has already arrived in Rome, at the Vatican,” Mr. Maduro told Italian television.
The letter states “I am at the service of the cause of Christ,” Maduro said, “and with this spirit I have asked for his help.”
I ask the pope to make “his best effort to assist us on the path of dialogue,” Maduro declared, “and I hope to receive a positive response.”
In Latin America, however, the pope’s refusal to condemn the socialist government for its rampant human rights abuses – including refusing to allow access to humanitarian aid for ill and starving Venezuelans, the imprisonment of political dissidents, and torture and killing of protesters – sparked a wave of criticism, with one Grammy Award-winning artist comparing Francis to Pontius Pilate, who handed Jesus over to be crucified.