VATICAN CITY —
Pope Francis is calling for an end to the violent anti-government protests in Venezuela and expressing solidarity with families of those killed.
Francis led thousands of people in prayer for Venezuela on Sunday as he noted the country is to mark its independence on Wednesday.
He said, "I assure this dear nation of my prayers and express my closeness to the families who have lost their children in the protests. I appeal for an end to the violence and for a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis."
At least 80 people have been killed since anti-government protests erupted three months ago.
The Vatican sponsored a dialogue last year that failed. Recently, Venezuelan bishops have travelled to the Vatican and briefed Francis on their criticism of President Nicolas Maduro's authoritarian bent.