By Benedetta Capelli
Responding to journalists’ questions regarding the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, and the possibility of a mediation on the part of the Holy See, the ad interim Director of the Vatican Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, said: "The Holy Father reserves the right to verify the will of both parties by ascertaining whether the conditions exist for following this path”.
Mediation if requested by all parties
On the flight back from Abu Dhabi to the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke to journalists on board, in similar terms: “We will see what can be done”, said the Pope. “But for a mediation to happen, you need the will of both sides: both sides need to request it. This is a condition must make them think first, before asking for help or for the presence of an observer, or for mediation. Both sides, always”.
During the in-flight press conference, Pope Francis confirmed the commitment of the Vatican Secretariat of State to solving the Venezuelan crisis. He recalled the talks between government and opposition that took place in Santo Domingo, mediated by former Spanish President Zapatero, representative of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. He also spoke of how Vatican diplomacy worked through Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, who is presently Apostolic Nuncio to Italy and to the Republic of San Marino, and Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli. Unfortunately, the result, said Pope Francis, was nothing but “smoke".
Thinking of Venezuela while in Panama
The crisis in Venezuela reached a turning point on January 23rd when the Leader of the National Assembly, Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez, declared himself interim President of the country. It was the same day of the Pope arrived in Panama to celebrate World Youth Day. He addressed the people of Venezuela during the Angelus on January 27th: “Here in Panama I have thought a lot about the Venezuelan people, to whom I feel particularly united these days”, said the Pope. “In the face of the current serious situation, I ask the Lord that a just and peaceful solution be sought and reached to overcome the crisis, with respect for human rights and seeking exclusively the good of all the inhabitants of the country. I invite you to pray, placing this intercession under the protection of Our Lady of Coromoto, Patroness of Venezuela”.
The Pope’s appeals
This is not the first appeal Pope Francis has made on behalf of Venezuela. When the crisis began in 2014, he sent a message encouraging dialogue, speaking of "the heroism of forgiveness and mercy": elements we need, said the Pope, to free ourselves "from resentment and hatred" and to take "a truly new path", one that requires patience and courage", but "the only one that can lead to peace and justice", he said.
More recently, in May 2017, Pope Francis wrote to the Venezuelan Bishops, urging them to build bridges. He expressed his "deep sorrow for the clashes and violence" that, according to recent estimates of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have cost the lives of 43 people and about 850 arrests, in the last few days alone.
A country on its knees
The humanitarian situation in Venezuela is the greatest cause of concern of the Bishops of the country, which has been on its knees for years, despite its massive oil reserves. The latest figures tell the story: according to the FAO, 12% of the population is undernourished, and the rate of malnutrition is at its highest in 25 years. The UN estimates that about 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015.
The voice of the Venezuelan Bishops
Bishop José Trinidad Fernández, is Auxiliary Bishop of Caracas and Secretary General of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference. "We don't want bloodshed, for any reason in the world”, he says. "We know the people of Venezuela are peaceful”, so “a negotiated and peaceful solution is needed, one that respects everyone. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is particularly valid at this moment and this must be a process of peace, not of war", he says. Bishop José Trinidad Fernández continues, by saying: "Ours is a request for dialogue that we have reiterated many times in our pronouncements. A dialogue that must lead to that peaceful transition and that political change the people are asking for. A political change, to go to clear and transparent elections".
The humanitarian situation
The Church in Venezuela is also deeply concerned about the dramatic situation of the population, the lack of food and medicine: "We must open the country to humanitarian aid”, they say, emphasizing the “dramatic and unprecedented situation” in which the country finds itself. Speaking on behalf of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, the Secretary General says: "We bishops are inspired by the recent Message of the Pope for the world Day of Peace, in which he speaks of the need for a good policy in the service of peace”. This is what we are trying to do at this moment, he continues, because “we no longer want to see people being arbitrarily detained, or children looking for food in the garbage".