Pope Francis: Mediation in Venezuela requires willingness of both sides

Pope Francis speaks to journalists on the papal flight en route to South Korea August 14 2014 Credit Alan Holdren CNA 4 CNA 8 14 14 Pope Francis speaks to journalists on the papal flight to South Korea in 2014. | Alan Holdren/CNA.

Pope Francis said Tuesday that he had not read Nicolas Maduro's letter, but expressed an openness to mediate in Venezuela's political situation, if both sides are willing.

"I will look at that letter, and I will see what can be done," Pope Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane Feb. 5.

The status of Venezuela's governance is currently split, as the United States and more than a dozen other European and South American nations no longer recognize Maduro as Venezuela's president.

Maduro was sworn in for a second term Jan. 10, after winning a contested election in which opposition candidates were barred from running or imprisoned. Amidst the protests that followed, the head of the nation's parliament, Juan Guaidò, declared himself interim president on Jan. 23, pledging a transitional government and free elections.

Maduro's leadership in Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval with severe shortages and hyperinflation leading millions of Venezuelans to emigrate.

The pope stressed there are "little steps" needed diplomatically in Venezuela first to "start the possibility of dialogue" before mediation.

He pointed to the "courageous act" of Saint John Paul II's mediation between Argentina and Chile that averted the possibility of war as an example, but called mediation "the last step" diplomatically.

The European Union, Italy, and Ireland have not recognized Guaido, but instead called for new elections to be held in Venezuela. Russia, China, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Belarus continue to support Maduro's leadership.

In response to this legitimacy crisis, Maduro sent a letter to Pope Francis asking him to mediate in Venezuela, telling Italian media Monday that he appealed to the pope as a Christian, asking him to "help us on the path of dialogue."

Pope Francis said Tuesday that he had received Maduro's letter before leaving for his trip to the United Arab Emirates Feb. 3-5.

The pope, who is returning from Abu Dhabi for a trip focused on interreligious dialogue, has maintained a strict neutrality on Venezuela. On his return trip from Panama last week, he told reporters that it would be "pastoral imprudence" on his part to choose a side in the current split in Venezuela.

"I support in this moment all of the Venezuelan people - it is a people that is suffering - including those who are one side and the other. All of the people are suffering," the pope said Jan. 28. Francis then called for "a just and peaceful solution" without bloodshed.

Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, Cardinal Parolin said Feb. 4 that Maduro's letter "relaunches dialogue" in Venezuela, ANSA reported.

Venezuela's bishops have taken a less neutral stance, calling Maduro's election "illegitimate" and backing opposition marches in January. On Feb. 1, Venezuela's bishops met with Guaido in an effort to mobilize the entrance of humanitarian aid to the crisis-stricken country.

The Archbishop Emeritus of Caracas Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino told ACIPrensa Jan. 29, "I hope Maduro, who always appeals to the pope's words, heeds those calls [for peace], and steps down from office since his administration has been absolutely harmful for the Venezuelan people."

On Feb. 7, European Union representatives will meet in Uruguay to discuss a peaceful resolution of the political situation in Venezuela with delegates from Mexico, Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador with the hope that it will lead to future transparent and credible elections in Venezuela.

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