The Archbishop Emeritus of Caracas expressed his hope Tuesday that Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro would step down from office, heeding the pope's call for peace in the country.

Maduro was sworn in for a second term as president Jan. 10, after winning a contested election in which oppositon candidates were barred from running or imprisoned. Venezuela's bishops have called his new term illegitimate, and opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself the country's interim president.

“I hope Maduro, who always appeals to the pope's words, heeds those calls, and steps down from office since his administration has been absolutely harmful for the Venezuelan people,” Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, Jan. 29.

Cardinal Urosa, 76, retired as Archbishop of Caracas in July 2018.

“We Venezuelan bishops always feel the constant support of the Holy Father in our position critical of the government,” the cardinal added.

On his return flight from Panama to Rome Jan. 28 Pope Francis said he was frightened by “the shedding of blood” in Venezuela and urged reaching a just and peaceful solution to the crisis.

“What is it that scares me? The shedding of blood. And there I also ask greatness to help, to those who can help and resolve the problem,” the Holy Father said.

Since Jan. 21, at least 40 people have died and hundreds have been arrested amid protests against Maduro.

And after the praying the Angelus in Panama Jan. 27, the pope expressed his concern for the Venezuelan people and asked “the Lord that a just and peaceful solution be sought and achieved to overcome the crisis, respecting human rights and exclusively desiring the good of all the inhabitants of the country.”

Cardinal Urosa told ACI Prensa that “the numerous messages of the Holy Father Francis regarding the socio-political conflict in Venezuela, and the message in Panama, are along the lines of promoting a peaceful solution and promoting the defense of human rights and avoiding the suffering of the people.”

“And we are grateful for that constant concern of Pope Francis. It seems a very good message to me,”
the archbishop emeritus added.

Cardinal Urosa said that “for quite some time there has been almost no contact with the national government” on the part of the country's bishops. “We are open to those contacts, but since we maintain a position critical of a government that has ruined Venezuela, and has caused so much harm to so many people, they are not approaching us.”

“I just returned from Rome, and I have no information that there have been any negotiations between the Venezuelan bishops and Maduro's government,” the cardinal said.

He was responding to a recent Twitter post which attributed to him knowledge of an agreement by which Marduro and some of his officials could receive asylum in the Apostolic Nunciature in Caracas.

The cardinal also recalled the Venezuelan bishops' Jan. 9 exhortation which “called the claim of Maduro and his people to continue to govern the country as morally unacceptable after the resounding failure of his administration. And we called the May 2018 elections illegitimate and false.”

Since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and millions have emigrated.

Guaido, head of the National Assembly, has been recognized as Venezuelan president by the US, Canada, and several Latin American nations. The European Union has said that if Maduro does not call for new elections within eight days, it will also recognize Guaido.

Venezuela's Supreme Court has banned Guaido from leaving the country, and has frozen his bank accounts.

Maduro has said he would talk to the opposition, but ruled out holding early presidential elections, which aren't due until 2025.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.