Caracas, June 17th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In a meeting at the Vatican Palace, Pope Francis received Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to discuss current social and political issues, a press release from the Vatican Information Service reported earlier this morning.
Among the topics discussed were Venezuela’s circumstances following the death of late President Hugo Chávez and other “current issues such as poverty and the fight against crime and drug trafficking,” according to the press release.
The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the first South American to be elected pope, Francis I also made reference to the regional situation in Latin America, particularly with regard to the developing peace process in Colombia between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest of the three guerrilla organizations which continues operations within the country.
Maduro stated that it was “an honor” to meet the Pope, and that he was “humbled” and “pleased to be there [in the palace].”
“We admire [St. Francis], because he was a saint who dedicated himself to the poor, to nature, to the most humane acts,” Maduro told reporters following the meeting. He added that it was “very nice” to have a Pope from South America.
After the meeting, which lasted roughly 20 minutes, Maduro presented Francis with several gifts, including a painting of Simón Bolívar, a copy of Venezuela’s Constitution, and a sculpture of José Gregorio Hérnandez, a 19th-century Venezuelan doctor in the process of canonization. Francis gave Maduro a fountain pen and a document detailing the conclusions of the 2007 Latin American Episcopal Conference in Aparecida, Brazil.
The same morning, members of the Venezuelan political opposition published an advertisement in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that thanked the Pope for his interest in Venezuela. The advertisement reprinted a message that Francis made a week following the April 14 presidential elections, when he expressed his hope to find “just and peaceful ways to overcome the difficult moment which the country is currently facing.” Maduro defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in the election by a 1.6% margin.
In a letter to Francis, dated from Wednesday, June 12, Capriles asked for assistance in establishing a “dialogue based on truth” and denounced what he described as “repeated human rights violations.”
During the presidency of Hugo Chávez, the relationship between Venezuela and the Catholic Church occasionally grew tense due to the late president’s conflicts with his country’s conservative Church hierarchy, which supported a brief coup of Chávez in April 2002.
Maduro’s visit marks the second day of the president’s first tour to Europe since taking office. He previously appeared before the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, where Venezuela was recognized as one of 18 countries that had made exceptional progress toward reducing the prevalence of malnutrition.