SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) — Cardinal-designate Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida, Venezuela, is known throughout his country, and his appointment as a cardinal gave the people something to celebrate, said a woman who has worked with him for 20 years.

Mary Alvarez Lobo, the administrative secretary in the Archdiocese of Merida, told Catholic News Service that the cardinal-designate is concerned about the economic and social situation in Venezuela.

“There’s a lack of food, there’s crime, there’s not enough medications. It’s a serious situation,” she told CNS.

“He has become closer to the people even as the situation has gotten worse,” she added. “People feel, at least, a little hope.”

Alvarez said the Venezuelan people have turned to the church as the crisis has worsened and Cardinal-designate Porras’ appointment “was a blessing for Venezuelans, a moment of light during a very difficult time.”

Pope Francis announced Oct. 9 that the Merida archbishop would be one of 17 new cardinals consecrated at the Vatican Nov. 19.

Venezuela has been plagued by runaway inflation and an economic recession, resulting in long lines for food, government rationing, shortages of basic medications and political unrest. An effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro through a popular recall has been stalled in court.

Catholic leaders have called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis while supporting the recall effort as being the will of the people.

In an email to Catholic News Service, Cardinal-designate Porras said being named to the College of Cardinals is a call for the church to work toward a solution to the political and economic problems that have thrown his South American country into a crisis.

“It is one of many signs that Pope Francis has given us about his closeness to and concern for the situation in Venezuela,” Cardinal-designate Porras told CNS. “He has expressed the need for dialogue and for a peaceful solution to the crisis in which we are living.”

Speaking to reporters Oct. 20, the cardinal-designate said the church is in contact with both the government and opposition leaders as it seeks to promote a dialogue between the two sides.

“We’re not mediators, we’re facilitators,” he said.

“There’s a tendency to stereotype the (bishops’) conference as being against the government and in favor of the opposition. But that’s a misreading,” he said, adding that the conference has always been in favor of upholding the constitution and finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The 72-year-old told CNS that he plans to serve the church with joy, hope and fraternity, following Pope Francis’ lead.

“This obliges us to be true missionaries, to be a church that gets out and works even harder for the poor and the deprived in our society, in the name and in the following of Jesus, his Gospel and teachings, and following the path that Pope Francis has created with courage and joy,” he told CNS.