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Pope Exhorts Chávez to Respect Catholics’ Rights

Mentions Education, Media and Appointment of Bishops

VATICAN CITY, MAY 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI appealed for the rights of Catholics in Venezuela when he received the country’s president, Hugo Chávez, in audience.

Among the concerns the Pope raised today with his guest was the freedom of the Church to appoint bishops, the marginalization of religion in schools, and the independence of the Catholic media.

The 35-minute audience was the first meeting between Benedict XVI and Chávez, who has clashed with Church leaders during his seven years in office.

A communiqué issued later by Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls stated: “In the course of the meeting, the president illustrated to the Pope the projects of social change taking place in his country. Benedict XVI then drew to the president’s attention certain themes of particular concern to him.”

“In the first place he reiterated the freedom of the Holy See to appoint bishops, and expressed the hope that the Catholic University of Santa Rosa de Lima may always maintain its Catholic identity,” Navarro Valls said.

Media plea

“The Holy Father also expressed his concern over an education reform project in which there would seem to be no provision for teaching religion,” the spokesman said. “He further asked that public health programs uphold the fundamental principle of protecting life from its very beginnings. He also underlined the importance of the independence of Catholic media.

“President Hugo Chávez gave assurances of his concern for the Holy Father’s requests and expressed his commitment to overcome all forms of tension in full respect for everyone’s rights.”

“Finally,” the Vatican spokesman stated, “the Holy Father consigned a personal letter to the president summarizing his pastoral concerns for the good of the country.”

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