Venezuela political dialogue difficult but must be pursued: Church

October 20, 2016 5:32 PM EDT

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By Diego Oré

CARACAS (Reuters) - Dialogue between Venezuela's feuding leftist government and the opposition will be a slow and difficult process but it must not be abandoned, the country's newly-named Roman Catholic Cardinal Baltazar Porras said on Thursday.

The prelate, a 72-year old theologian who will be formally elevated by the Vatican in November, said the Church has started preliminary conversations with both sides to seek to overcome Venezuela's deep economic crisis.

"It's a long, torturous, difficult road, but you can't throw in the towel," Porras, Archbishop of Merida, said in a press conference with international media in Caracas.

The Vatican agreed in September to accompany a dialogue between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition. But formal rapprochement has yet to happen.

Venezuela's opposition is requesting a recall referendum against unpopular Maduro as a precursor to any dialogue, while authorities have said there will no such vote this year.

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, played an important role in facilitating rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, and the Church has said it is willing to help in Venezuela's crisis.

"Never like in this pontificate has there been as much concern, but also understanding, of this country," said Porras, who has been critical of Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Grant McCool)

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