Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela, called on the faithful to intensify their prayers during Lent for God to rid Venezuela of violence, as the death toll from recent protests continues to rise.

"I want to ask you to pray a lot for Venezuela this Lent, that Venezuelans can resolve our problems peacefully, with everyone seeking the common good," Cardinal Urosa said in his Lenten message.

"Regardless of the political sympathies of each person, Catholics need to banish hatred, bitterness and revenge from our hearts."

Student protests began across the nation's cities early in February 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 current reported death toll stands at 29.

The cardinal noted that the Venezuelan bishops have made continuous calls to stop the escalation of violence.  

"We reject violence, wherever it comes from," he said. "We call on the government to respect the right of citizens to protest, and we ask that it respond to the requests of those who are protesting and provide solutions to the root of the problems."

Cardinal Urosa added that the bishops have called for sanctions against those who have broken the law during protests.

He also exhorted Venezuelans to fulfill their civil duties "in accord with our consciences, but let us do so keeping in mind what the Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount: 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father'."

"Let us remove hatred and bitterness from our hearts and let us truly live in love. No to violence!" he emphasized.