VATICAN CITY — Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles asked Pope Francis Wednesday for his assistance in facilitating political dialogue in the face of "threats and blackmail" from President Nicolas Maduro's regime.
"I came to ask the Pope that the Church, which has a great power to mobilize in my country, promote dialogue," Capriles told journalists after his audience with Francis in the Vatican.
Venezuela has seen growing political tensions since Maduro's disputed election in April and upcoming December municipal elections have sparked fierce rivalries for key states between the leftist government and the opposition.
"I reminded the Pope of the climate of conflict, and that every day, the government carries out threats and blackmail. The Church can promote a peaceful and democratic way out of the crisis," Capriles said.
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"The government provokes violence. I do not rise to it, but cannot continue to act as the wall that keeps tensions at bay," he said, calling on Francis to intervene as well for the "prisoners of conscience" in a country where 80 percent of the population is Catholic.
Capriles gave the Pope letters addressed to Francis by Venezuelans, collected near parish churches affiliated with the opposition. The Catholic Church had asked for the missives not to be collected inside churches.
Maduro was proclaimed the winner of Venezuela's April 14 presidential elections by a 1.5-percent margin hours after polls closed, but Capriles has refused to concede, saying the elections were stolen.
Francis met with Maduro in June and discussed the Church's historic role in the country, particularly in charity work, healthcare, and education.
In April, the first Latin American-born pontiff urged Venezuela's government and opposition to work on a dialogue after post-election violence claimed at least 10 lives and left dozens injured.