Venezuelans Exhorted Toward Peace and Reconciliation

Pope´s Statements Follow Chávez´s Countercoup

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2002 ( John Paul II appealed for peaceful coexistence and reconciliation in Venezuela, following President Hugo Chávez´s spectacular countercoup Sunday.

«The grave events experienced in recent days by the people of Venezuela move me to make an appeal to the authorities and citizens of that beloved nation, so that they will make every effort to foster a climate of peaceful coexistence, in which the spirit of reconciliation will prevail,» the Pope said at the end of today´s general audience.

«That putting aside all temptations to revenge and violence, they may walk in a spirit of fraternity, solidarity and cooperation, toward higher goals of justice, respect for legality, and authentic progress for all,» the Bishop of Rome said in St. Peter´s Square.

On Tuesday, the Venezuelan episcopal conference issued a document stating that, following the «tragic events,» the government «has the duty to restore peace and order to the country, within the legal framework, impeding violence, looting, and intimidation of any person or institution, journalists or media, in order to safeguard freedom of expression, the right to information, and personal security.»

«We condemn the tragic results of the events lived between April 11 and 14, and are in solidarity with the relatives of the innocent victims,» they said. Officials said 35 died and more than 100 were wounded in those days of unrest.

The bishops requested «that all the legal responsibilities of these events be established and sanctioned within the most scrupulous respect of human rights and the juridical framework.»

«It is time for integral rectification in the different realms of the democratic leadership of the country,» the bishops continued. «On the part of the governmental authorities, this implies the final clarification of the plan for the country and society they hope to implement.»

At this time of «uncertainty and tension it is necessary that the national government and the entire society make room for a real dialogue, in an authentically democratic climate, which will allow the participation of all sectors of society in the country´s development,» the bishops added.

Moreover, the bishops expressed their «affection and solidarity» with Cardinal Ignacio Velasco, archbishop of Caracas, and Archbishop Baltazar Porras, president of the episcopal conference, «for the priestly work carried out as mediators and guarantors of the personal integrity of the president of the republic.»

In an interview with Venevision, Cardinal Velasco confirmed that he traveled to La Orchila Island to meet with President Chávez, while he was detained there by the forces that ousted him.

We «both took advantage of that moment for reflection and forgiveness,» the cardinal said. Chávez has verbally attacked the Church over the last three years.

The cardinal added: «The president expressed a thought that seemed very beautiful and truthful to me. He said: ´Monsignor, this is a lesson God has given all of us. We all have to learn.´ And I said to him: This is truly a lesson for all. We all must learn.»

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