In an unexpected move, Pope Francis received the president of Venezuela, Nicolàs Maduro, in a private audience at the Vatican on Monday evening, Oct. 24, and encouraged him “to undertake with courage the path of sincere and constructive dialogue, to alleviate the suffering of the people and first of all of the poor.”
The Vatican broke the news just after 7 p.m. local time in Rome, and noted “the meeting took place within the framework of the worrisome political, social and economic situation that the country is going through,” which “is having serious repercussions in the daily lives of the entire population.”
Francis met the president in an effort “to promote a climate of renewed social cohesion, which would offer a vision forward with hope for the future of the nation.” The pope is seeking to get the government and opposition to negotiate a peaceful solution to the present crisis.
Francis, as the first Latin American pope, has long been concerned about the deteriorating situation in this country of 31 million people, which depends on oil for its economic well-being. There was a great deal of social and political tension even before the death of the former president, Hugo Chavez, and the situation has only gotten worse since Maduro took over.
The Vatican added that “through this meeting, Pope Francis, who has at heart the welfare of all Venezuelans, desired to continue to offer his contribution to the country's institutional life and to everything that will help to resolve the outstanding issues and build trust between the various parties.”
Francis last met the Venezuelan president at the Vatican in June 2013. A second meeting had been arranged last year but was canceled at the last minute by Maduro, citing health problems.
In recent months, however, the idea of mediation by the pope has been floated in Venezuela and elsewhere as the political crisis between the president and the opposition continued to escalate. This gained some credibility because the pope’s right-hand man, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, served for four years as papal nuncio in Venezuela before Francis appointed him as secretary of state. The cardinal knows the situation and many of the actors there very well. But for the Holy See to get involved in any form of mediation both the government and the opposition would have to request it, and this has not happened yet.
On the other hand, the Holy See has sent the papal nuncio in Argentina, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, as a special envoy to Venezuela for this situation. Today, he announced that the opposition and the government of President Maduro will meet on the island of Margarita, off the Venezuelan coast, on Oct. 30, and he will be there in support of the dialogue. According to the Venezuelan Bishops Conference, the Holy See received requests from the government and the opposition for its representative to be present at the talks, and this will now happen.
(Note: Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., translated the Vatican press release into the English text used here.)