Cardinal Jorge Urosa Sabino of Caracas again urged peace amid increasing conflict in Venezuela, where at least 20 people have been killed in student protests over the past several weeks.

"We wish to reiterate our call to all the inhabitants of Caracas, regardless of their political sympathies, to live together in peace," he said in a March 7 statement.

Student protests began to spark across the nation's cities early last month but escalated when three people were killed. The National Guard has been criticized for an unnecessarily strong response to demonstrators, who are urging greater protection of freedom of speech, better security and an end to goods shortages.  

The cardinal said a "serious, impartial and objective investigation" should take place to determine those responsible for the deaths of protestors. "We deplore these deaths and we offer our condolences to the family members and friends of those who have died since the beginning of the conflict."

Recalling the statements made by the leadership of the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference in February, Cardinal Urosa joined in the call for "dialogue between the diverse sectors: students, followers of the opposition, pro-government supporters and the National Government, which oversees the state security forces."

"In those statements, in addition to asserting the legitimate and constitutional right of students, of young people and of citizens in general to protest and to engage in peaceful demonstrations, the bishops highlighted the need for the government to listen to the demands of the protestors and to meet their just demands by effectively responding to the reasons for the protests."

Cardinal Urosa condemned the attacks against protestors, "presumably by state security officials or by armed civilians, as well as alleged torture and violations of the rights of those detained."

"We also reject the deaths caused by roadblocks presumably put in place by protestors, and the disproportionate use of force in repressive actions, which has lead to some deaths and a large number of wounded," he said.

The cardinal lamented that repressive actions "have continued, despite the dialogue initiated on Feb. 26 in the Peace Conference proposed by the President of the Republic."

"What is needed now is serenity, the collaboration of all citizens to foster harmony and to avoid violent acts that threaten the public order or endanger the lives of persons, as well as real willingness on the part of the government to resolve the current crisis."

"We invoke the help of God upon our beloved Venezuela, and we exhort all Catholics, regardless of their political sympathies, to set aside any negative sentiment," he said.