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20170804T1006 10964 CNS VATICAN VENEZUELA STATEMENT 800A demonstrator is detained July 27 during a strike called to protest Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas. (CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters)VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican called on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to respect the will of the people and respect the nation's current constitution.

The Vatican urged Maduro "to suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly, which, rather than fostering reconciliation and peace, encourages a climate of tension and confrontation and mortgages the future," said a statement released Aug. 4 by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Elections for seats on the assembly were held around the country July 30 amid massive protests and international outcry.

Maduro's push for the assembly, comprised mainly of his supporters and designed to rewrite the nation's constitution, has led to violent demonstrations in which more than 100 people have died.

The Vatican's statement echoed a declaration made by members of the presiding council of the Venezuelan bishops' conference who condemned the elections as "unconstitutional as well as unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging to the Venezuelan people."

"It will be a biased and skewed instrument that will not resolve but rather aggravate the acute problems of the high cost of living and the lack of food and medicine that the people suffer and will worsen the political crisis we currently suffer," the bishops said July 27.

Maduro declared victory following the election, claiming high voter turnout.

While the government said that 8 million citizens voted in favor of establishing the Constituent Assembly, the company that provided voting machines for the election said the turnout numbers results were tampered with. 

According to the BBC, Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, announced at a news conference in London July 31 that voter turnout result estimates were falsified by the country's National Electoral Council.

The news agency Reuters reported Aug. 2 that it had reviewed official election documents that stated only 3.7 million votes were registered 30 minutes before polls were closed. 

Two days after the vote, security forces raided the homes of opposition members Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma. Government intelligence officials said both men were arrested for violating the terms of their house arrests, claiming they planned to flee the country after the elections.

Expressing concern over the "radicalization and worsening" of the crisis and "the increased number of dead, wounded and detained," the Vatican said Pope Francis was "closely following the situation."

The pope "assures his constant prayer for the country and for all Venezuelans, while inviting the faithful around the world to pray intensely for this intention," the Vatican said. 

The Vatican called for a "negotiated solution" that would provide humanitarian aid, fair elections and the release of political prisoners, and it appealed for an end to the violence that has plagued the country.

 "The Holy See addresses an urgent appeal to the whole society to avoid any form of violence, in particular by inviting the security forces to refrain from the excessive and disproportionate use of force," the Vatican statement said.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.