World

Vatican says it's willing, wants to help Venezuela

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday it was "willing and desirous" to intervene diplomatically in Venezuela's crisis after weeks of deadly unrest but says it must study expectations and options about what role it could play.

On Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accepted the idea of a good-faith facilitator after coming under mounting pressure to reconcile with opponents who have been protesting for nearly three months. He mentioned Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, until last year the Vatican's ambassador to Caracas.

Critics of Maduro's socialist administration have pressed for Vatican involvement: Shortly before he was arrested, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez wrote an open letter to Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, asking him to guide the country.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Friday the Holy See and Parolin were "certainly willing and desirous to do whatever is possible for the good and serenity of the country." He said Parolin, in particular, "knows and loves" Venezuela.

But he said the Vatican needed to have more information to understand "the expectations and the premise for undertaking a useful role that could achieve the desired outcome." Such a study, he said, was underway.

The oil-rich nation has been widely criticized for its harsh crackdown on opponents protesting inflation, crime and shortages. Clashes between protesters and loyalists have left more than 30 people dead.

While direct Vatican mediation in conflicts is rare, the Holy See's diplomats often works behind the scenes and have helped resolve conflicts in Latin America before. In 1978, Pope John Paul II sent an envoy to help Francis' native Argentina and Chile reach a compromise on a territorial dispute. The two countries had been on the brink of war over the Beagle Channel and its islands.

Joshua Goodman and Hannah Dreier in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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