The appeal comes as Venezuela descends further into chaos and violence

The Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference has pleaded for the intercession of the Virgin Mary to free their country from the “claws of communism and socialism”.

As the country descends further into political chaos, the bishops posted the prayer to their Twitter account along with an image of Mary and a Venezuelan flag.

The prayer reads: “Most Holy Virgin, Mother of Coromoto, heavenly Patron of Venezuela, free our homeland from the claws of communism and socialism.”

The tweet was posted as Venezuelans went to the polls the elect members for a “constituent assembly” charged with rewriting the country’s constitution.

President Nicolás Maduro convened the assembly on 1 May amid increasingly violent anti-government protests, arguing that rewriting the constitution would promote “reconciliation and peace”.

Opposition activists accuse the socialist president of a power grab and fear he will use the assembly to cement his own position and hold on to power.

No independent observers monitored the vote, and other South American countries such as Colombia, Panama, Peru and Argentina have refused to recognise it.

Venezuela’s bishops have denounced the assembly as “unconstitutional” and as “unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging for the Venezuelan people”.