In his New Year's message, the Archbishop of Caracas encouraged transparent elections the results of which the citizenry could trust, in order to alleviate the grave crisis affecting the country.

"The year 2017 was very tragic for Venezuela, marked by political violence with a terrible toll of more than 120 persons killed in attacks on demonstrations held by the people," read the message of Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino.

Venezuela is experiencing a severe economic crisis, with hyperinflation and chronic shortages of food and medicine.

Its socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, is due to run for re-election this year, as his term ends in 2019. Last July, contested elections led to the formation of a Constituent Assembly, which has superseded the authority of the National Assembly, Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature.

Mass protests against the Constituent Assembly were held, in which more than 120 people were killed by security forces.

After rejecting violence "wherever it comes from" and encouraging the peaceful defense of everyone's rights, the cardinal's message stated that "in order to resolve this situation, which has its roots in the political problem, it is necessary to hold the presidential elections for which the constitution calls. But for that, it is necessary to guarantee fair and reasonable conditions for elections with transparency and whose results the people can trust."

Cardinal Urosa was joined in his message by his four auxiliary bishops. The text is to be read in the parishes of the Caracas archdiocese Jan. 6-7.

The cardinal and his auxiliary bishops reiterated their call to release "prisoners held for actions related to political activities." The bishops' message stated that "We are pleased that some positive steps have already been taken in that regard."

More than 180 political prisoners have been held in Venezuela, and the government announced it would release 80 of them as a goodwill gesture for Christmas.

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 Given the serious shortage of food the prelates urged solidarity, with concrete actions such as "soup kitchens and with everything that can alleviate the tragedy of the poor, especially malnourished children."

The message also noted that "moved by our faith and full of hope despite so many difficulties, we begin this 2018 New Year with sentiments of trust in God and hopeful of a happier world for us, our families, and our beloved Venezuela."

"To accomplish this let us recall that God grants happiness only to those who listen to his word and fulfill it," they continued.

"Let us ask God to help us to go by the only way to happiness, the way of Jesus that our holy Catholic religion teaches us," they exhorted.

To arrive at happiness, they said, "let us resolve to lead a religious life, drawing close to the Lord, especially celebrating on Sundays his glorious resurrection in the Holy Eucharist, living a life closer to God, the sole source of true happiness."  

Concluding their message, the bishops asked God that the political leaders, "whether in the ruling party or in the opposition, may have the light and strength to act on behalf of the common good, with a truly patriotic spirit, to resolve the pending problems."

Frustration in Venezuela has been building for years due to poor economic policies, including strict price controls coupled with high inflation rates, which have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers, and medicines.

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Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The International Monetary Fund has forecasted an inflation rate of 2,300 percent in Venezuela in 2018.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.