Athletes are the latest group of Venezuelans to voice their concern over the health of the country's socialist leader as a group gathered to pray for the recovery of President Hugo Chávez on Sunday. 

Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado, IndyCar Series driver Ernesto Jose Viso and other pro-Chávez athletes attended a Mass at a church in downtown Caracas on Sunday to pray for the ailing president. Athletes wearing jackets with the colors and stars of Venezuela's flag stood before an altar, solemnly reciting prayers.

The government revealed last week that Chávez is fighting a severe lung infection and receiving treatment for "respiratory deficiency."

Chávez hasn't spoken or appeared publicly since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba, his fourth surgery for an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer. Speculation about the leader's condition has grown since the operation.

Maldonado, who is sponsored by Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, expressed confidence that Chávez would soon recover and return to Venezuela.

The F1 driver said he hoped "very soon (Chávez) is here with all of us."

Viso said he and millions of other Chávez supporters have "much faith that he's recovering."

"We wish him the best," Viso said.

Luis Alfredo Mendoza, a retired professional soccer player-turned-coach, credited Chávez for doing much more than previous presidents to promote and support the South American nation's sports programs.

"He's always been mindful of supporting all the disciplines, not just soccer," Mendoza said, according to the state-run AVN news agency.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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