Archbishop of Caracas Jorge Urosa Savino is being criticized by both citizens and officials after confrontations between government supporters and opposition activists erupted following a mass he gave Wednesday at the Basilica of St. Teresa.
During his Nazarene of St. Paul sermon, Urosa criticized the government for violence in opposition-led protests, saying "with respect but at the same time with firmness, cease the repression of the demonstrations of the people."
According to witnesses, opposition leaders including Maria Corina Machado and Richard Blanco were present at the mass along with supporters and initiated conflicts with government supporters following the mass. Several people, including teleSUR's camera crew, were injured in the scuffle.
The Secretary General of the Association of Victims of the 2002 Coup d'Etat, Doris Infante, accused the Archbishop of inciting violence in Catholic churches across Venezuela.
"Houses of worship should be part of the peace and to remember Jesus Christ in prayer during the Easter season and not to incite violence as Urosa Savino is doing," said Infante, who lost a leg as a result of being shot during the attempted coup against then President Hugo Chavez.
Jesuit priest Numa Molina called on the representatives of the Catholic Church to promote dialogue, rather than divisions, among Venezuelans.
"The first job of the bishops is to address the people and engage and promote dialogue with them," said Molina during an interview with the state-run channel, VTV. "I have chosen to serve the people, my mission is to serve the people, I serve them respecting them, loving them, accompanying them, listening to them, not dividing them; the church is not to divide, it is for people to find themselves," Father Molina said.
In a speech to mark the Catholic holiday of Easter, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro criticized the right wing for promoting violence and added that opposition leaders were attempting to sabotage the religious celebrations in the country.
Since the beginning of April, opposition leaders have been leading anti-government demonstrations calling for the ouster of the country's Supreme Court judges as well as President Maduro. According to reports, five people have been killed in the ensuing violence, including a 13-year-old boy who was killed Wednesday when opposition protesters entered a social housing complex.