CARACAS, Monday June 17, 2013 | Update

Pope Francis holds 20-minute audience with Nicolás Maduro

In arriving at the hall known as Sala del Tronetto, the Venezuelan president said it was "an honor" to meet the pope, adding that he was "very impressed" and "happy" to be there

This is the first meeting between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Pope Francis (Andreas Solaro / Reuters)
Monday June 17, 2013  09:45 AM
Pope Francis on Monday received in a 20-minute audience President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro in the hall of the Vatican Apostolic Library.

In arriving at the hall known as Sala del Tronetto, the Venezuelan president said it was "an honor" to meet the pope, adding that he was "very impressed" and "happy" to be there, Efe reported.

He also thanked the Argentine pope "for everything you are doing."

As reported by the press office of the Holy See, during the meeting at the Vatican they addressed a few issues facing the country such as "poverty, the fight against crime and drug trafficking."

The Vatican explained that during the 20-minute meeting, held in a "climate of cordiality," Pope Francis and Maduro also reviewed "the social and political situation of Venezuela" after the recent death of Hugo Chávez.

The Venezuelan president was accompanied by Cilia Flores, and a large delegation composed, among others, by Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, and Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramírez Carreńo.

During the traditional exchange of gifts, Maduro gave the pope the Venezuelan Constitution, a portrait of Simón Bolívar, a painting of the Virgin of Coromoto, the patroness of Venezuela, and a sculpture of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández (1864-1919), who is in the process of canonization.

As regards Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, known for his commitment to the poor, Maduro expressed his wish to the pope that he will be canonized soon as "the people's saint."

Pope Francis gave Maduro a fountain pen and, as he did with other Latin American leaders, the paper on the conclusions of the meeting of the Latin American Episcopal Conference held in Aparecida (Brazil).

All the members of the Venezuelan delegation that greeted Bergoglio asked the pontiff to bless objects and images they brought with them.

Maduro also asked the Argentine Pope to bless him and the Francis made the sign of the cross on Maduro's forehead.

This is Maduro's first official trip to Europe as Venezuelan president since he took office last April 19.
Is protest over?

That political protest in Venezuela has lost momentum seems pretty obvious: people are no longer building barricades to block off streets near Plaza Francia in Altamira (eastern Caracas), an anti-government stronghold; no new images have been shown of brave and dashing protesters with bandanna-covered faces clashing with the National Guard in San Cristóbal, in the western state of Táchira; and those who dreamed of a horde of "Gochos" (Tachirans) descending  in an avalanche to stir up revolt in Caracas have been left with no option but to wake up to reality.

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