Prayers offered by Venezuela's Catholic bishop as strike ensues, riots continue

(Photo: REUTERS / Carlos Eduardo Ramirez)Opposition supporters hold a national a flag during a rally against Nicolas Maduro's government in San Cristobal March 22, 2014. Two Venezuelans died from gunshot wounds during protests against Maduro, witnesses and local media said on Saturday, pushing the death toll from almost two months of anti-government protests to 33.

Venezuela's Catholic bishops organized a day of prayer and fasting as riotd amid ongoing riots throughout the country as opposition to President Nicolas Maduro hardens.

The bishops have called on the people to use the penitential practices July 21 to ask God "to bless the efforts of Venezuelans for freedom, justice and peace," Catholic News Agency reported.

Millions of Venezuelans on July 21 joined a general strike called by the opposition, the BBC reported.

On the same day, Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly appointed 33 judges to the Supreme Court, prompting accusations of by the regime of President Nicholas Maduro of an attempted power grab.

At least three people were killed in clashes between police and protesters and there were more than 300 arrests.

Protesters barricaded roads in Caracas and other cities with rubbish and furniture.

For their part, the bishops' efforts came days after Pope Francis had spoken about Venezuela in St. Peter's Square when he had he renewed his prayer for what he called, this "beloved country."

This was before a popular referendum promoted by the opposition to say no to the constituent assembly proposed by President Maduro.

The Venezuelan bishops called on the people to use the penitential practices July 21 to ask God "to bless the efforts of Venezuelans for freedom, justice and peace."

Earlier they had released a statement July 13 could be dubbed their manifesto on the current crisis that the effort would help so that "peace and fraternal coexistence may continue being built in the country."

The day of prayer and fasting followed two similar initiatives, one of which took place Aug. 2, 2016, and the second May 21, 2017.

The bishops urged all faithful to participate in the day, in order "to not let themselves be robbed of the hope that makes possible, with the help of God, what is impossible; to communicate hope and to be protagonists in this historic moment and in the future of our country."

In order to draw attention and support for the event, those who are participating are promoting it on social media with the hashtag #OracionporVenezuela – in English #PrayerforVenezuela.

The latest round of violent protests were triggered by an opposition-organized July 16 referendum in which some 7.6 million Venezuelans voted in rejection of the Maduro government's command economy policies they say have ruined the economy of the oil-rich nation, impowerishing it.

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