Pope Francis meets Venezuela's president, spurring speculation of papal mediation

(Photo: REUTERS / Carlos Garcia Rawlins)Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends to a meeting with representatives of the opposition, the Roman Catholic Church and Union of South American Nations' (UNASUR) at Miraflores Palace in Caracas April 10, 2014. Maduro hosted Venezuelan opposition leaders on Thursday at the start of mediated talks intended to stem two months of political unrest that has killed dozens in the OPEC nation.

Pope Francis on Oct. 24 received, in private, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as his country faces political stalemate, social disorder and is floundering economically.

The Vatican said in an Oct. 25 statement, "The meeting took place in the context of the worrying situation of political, economic and social crisis which the country is going through and which has had severe repercussions on the daily life of the entire population."

"In this way, the Pope, who has the wellbeing of all Venezuelans in his heart, wanted to offer his contribution in support of constitutionality in the country and to every step that could help to resolve the open questions and create greater trust between the parties.

"He urged [the parties] to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue, to alleviate the suffering of the people, particularly of the poor, and to promote renewed social cohesion, which will allow the nation to look to the future with hope."

Opposition lawmakers in Venezuela on Oct. 23 passed a resolution declaring "the breakdown of constitutional order" and "a coup d'état committed by the Nicolás Maduro regime," The Guardian reported.

The Venezuelan president has seen his political support crumble of late with a recent poll finding that 75 percent of Venezuelan voters disapprove of him.

Maduro visited the Pope on his way back from the Middle East, where he was pushing for cuts to oil production to help crude prices improve and stanch the free-fall of his country's economy.

Francis, as the first Latin American pope, has long been concerned about the deteriorating situation for the 31 million people in Venezuela who depend on oil for their economic well-being.

Maduro took over for former Venezuelan socialist president Hugo Chavez after he died from cancer in 2013.

His takeover was beset by violence and social and economic upheaval. The economic policies included strict price controls that were accompanied by high inflation rates that triggered severe shortages of necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.

The government in Venezuelan government is known as one of the most corrupt in Latin America, and violent crime in the country has spiked since Maduro took office, Catholic News Agency reported.

Pope Francis invited the parties to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue to alleviate the suffering of the people, the poor first, and promote a climate of renewed social cohesion, which allows the nation to look with hope to the future.

Francis last met the Venezuelan president at the Vatican in June 2013.

In recent months the idea of a papal mediation has been floated in Venezuela and elsewhere as the political crisis between the president and the opposition continued to escalate, America The National Catholic Review reported.

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.

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