After the election it was also revealed that "before and during the electoral process for the Constituent Assembly, many people were coerced and threatened to attend to vote," the bishop alleged. "There are stories of people who are Catholic, are part of our parishes and almost confess as if it was an unforgivable sin. They feel humiliated because their freedom was restricted, because they were threatened that they would lose their jobs or benefits received in government social programs."
Dialogue with the Vatican
The representative of the bishops' conference also addressed the Vatican-facilitated dialogue process that took place in Venezuela between the government and the opposition in 2016.
The bishop denounced the result, which, in his view, was "a feigned dialogue on the part of the government without any result."
"Whenever this government has been at a disadvantage, it has asked to dialogue; but it is always the same script: dialogue is used to gain time and advance in the hegemonic project of totalitarianism and greater power of domination," Bishop Azuaje stated.
"The Holy See has always been aware of what is happening in the country. Both Pope Francis and the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, are well informed of the country's problems. They have always been willing to mediate, and we thank them for that. But experiences teach. The failed dialogue from October to December has taught that governments like this should have something more than goodwill," he said categorically.
He also explained that the Vatican "has reminded the government that to return to the table, they must meet what was agreed in October of last year, and recorded by Cardinal Parolin in the letter addressed to President Maduro on December 1, 2016."
This agreement states that the government must commit to "setting an electoral calendar, the release of political prisoners, the opening of a humanitarian channel to let food and medicines enter the country, and return power to the National Assembly."
In the bishop's view, the real solution involves a "total change of government through general elections," perhaps beginning with a "possible transitional national government."
However, he noted that "we can not forget justice" because "there has been a lot of corruption and violence" and "those responsible for this can not be left uninvestigated."
Regardless of how the political situation in Venezuela ends, however, Catholics must live and react to the crisis facing the country.
(Story continues below)
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"A Catholic in the circumstances in which we live must be a permanent promoter of the common good, solidarity, and justice," the bishop advised. "It is not a time of adornment, but of going to the essential, to what gives meaning to life."
"We know that nothing will be easy when working for the good of the community, but Christians have a fundamental belief that the power of the Holy Spirit not only animates us, but enlightens us in walking the narrow way. It offers us challenges, but it gives us its strength, " Bishop Azuaje said.
"I want to go to the extreme of saying that a Catholic can not bend to exclusionary policies, much less the voracious corruption that exists in the country, nor raise his hand to strike the dignity of anyone," he added.
"A committed Catholic should demand justice and work for the people with the sole interest of developing processes that lead to greater human development," the bishop urged.
Alvaro de Juana contributed to this report.
Adelaide Mena was the DC Correspondent for Catholic News Agency until 2017 and is a 2012 graduate of Princeton University.