Venezuelan bishops tell pope of 'truly desperate' situation

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Venezuela's Roman Catholic Church leaders said on Thursday they would tell Pope Francis of the "truly desperate" humanitarian crisis in their country at a meeting they hoped would throw a spotlight on problems caused by political deadlock. The Argentine pontiff is visiting Colombia and had asked bishops from neighboring Venezuela to meet with him and brief him on the situation. The short meeting took place after the pope's Mass on Thursday night. Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, the archbishop of Caracas, told reporters ahead of the meeting that his country was mired in "a truly desperate situation. There are people who eat garbage and there are people who die because there is no medicine." "We want to remind the pope of this again ... because the government is doing everything possible to establish a state system, totalitarian and Marxist," Urosa said. On Wednesday, Francis told reporters he hoped Venezuela could find stability. Venezuela has been convulsed by months of near-daily demonstrations against leftist President Nicolas Maduro, who critics say has plunged the oil-rich country into the worst economic crisis in its history and is turning it into a dictatorship. Maduro has said that he is the victim of an "armed insurrection" and an "economic war" by U.S.-backed opponents seeking to gain control of the OPEC member's oil reserves. World bodies and foreign governments have expressed concern about the shortage of food and medicine in Venezuela and called for political dialogue between Maduro and the opposition. Church leaders in Venezuela have made a series of highly critical speeches since late last year. The Vatican mediated in talks between the government and opposition in 2016 that ultimately broke down. Venezuela's crisis has also sparked an increase in border crossings to Colombia, which is struggling to supply social services for the migrants. "This meeting is a real gift that the pope is giving to all of the Venezuelan people through the bishops who are here," said the archbishop of Merida, Cardinal Baltazar Porras Cardozo. (Reporting by Helen Murphy, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)