Cartagena (Colombia) (AFP) – Pope Francis prayed on Sunday for a peaceful solution to the “grave crisis” in Venezuela, where economic and political chaos has left scores dead.
“I assure all of you of my prayers for each of the countries of Latin America, and in a special way for neighboring Venezuela,” Francis said during a prayer service in the Colombian city of Cartagena.
“I appeal for the rejection of all violence in political life and for a solution to the current grave crisis, which affects everyone, particularly the poorest and most disadvantaged of society.”
Venezuela’s crisis has caused food and medicine shortages, deadly unrest and calls for President Nicolas Maduro to quit.
Clashes with security forces at anti-government protests left 125 people dead from April to July.
The Vatican tried to mediate in negotiations last year between Venezuela’s government and opposition.
The talks broke down with the sides accusing each other of bad faith.
On Sunday, Venezuela’s center right-led opposition was holding a vote to choose candidates for regional governorship elections scheduled for October.
The opposition MUD coalition and international powers have accused Maduro of stifling democracy by taking over power from state institutions.
While flying over to Colombia on Wednesday, Francis issued a telegram with “cordial greetings” to Maduro and the Venezuelan people.
He said was “praying that all in the nation may promote paths of solidarity, justice and concord.”
Thousands of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia to escape the crisis, authorities say.
Francis met in Bogota on Thursday with Venezuelan bishops, who warned him that priests and nuns had faced threats in their country.
They said in a statement that they “informed him about the worsening of the crisis and the radicalization of the government’s stance.”
The statement said Francis “expressed his concern for the worsening of the humanitarian crisis, which is taking the form of hunger and scarcity of medical supplies, and the emigration of many Venezuelans.”
The Argentine pope, 80, was due to fly back to Rome on Sunday evening after touring a deprived district of Cartagena at the end of a four-city tour of Colombia.
During his visit, he pleaded for lasting peace in Colombia as it moves towards the end of a half-century civil war.