Archdiocese of Nicaragua calls on Ortega regime to end ‘siege’ of church properties


ROME – With two of its parishes besieged by police, the Archdiocese of Managua in Nicaragua has demanded that the government of Daniel Ortega end the harassment of the Church.

“We called on the national police to abandon this unnecessary attitude (of siege),” the statement from the archdiocese, led by Cardinal Leopoldo Lopez, said.

Police have since Friday surrounded the Santo Cristo de las Colinas parish in Managua, where Bishop Rolando Álvarez took refuge Thursday evening and declared a fast to protest the persecution and harassment he says he suffered all day by the police.

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Alvarez is Bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa and Apostolic Administrator of Esteli, in the northern region of Nicaragua. He is also the head of the communications office of the episcopal conference.

The cleric, who has questioned the crackdown on the opposition, said he would fast until authorities pledged to respect his privacy and that of his family. On a Facebook Live video on Friday, he complained that police entered the family home.

On Sunday, he celebrated Mass live on Facebook, as the police banned the faithful from entering the parish, as well as the priest who was to concelebrate with him. During his homily, he said that the peace to which the Church aspires is not that of “repression, prisons, torturers and persecutors”, but that which leads to justice and democracy.

“The peace that Jesus left us is not that of oblivion, of amnesia, it is not the peace of the powerful who want to impose their will against all odds,” he said.

Meanwhile, the San Juan Bautista church in the southern town of Masaya, on the outskirts of Managua, run by Father Harving Padilla, has been under police surveillance for a week, and the priest has banned people from leaving the parish.

On Sunday, Padilla, behind the bars that separate the church from the street where the men and women in uniform have been for more than a week, asked them why they were banning worshipers from entering for mass.

“They violated the right to our Christian life,” he said. “You have surrounded the entire perimeter of the Church, you have closed the streets [leading to it]. I would like to know why the faithful are not admitted to mass and why you have locked me up here.

He also challenged “the arbitrariness of the Ortega dictatorship”, to prohibit the faithful from liturgical celebrations, claiming that he is “the imprisoned Church”.

On Saturday evening, the electricity had been cut.

The bishop and the priest strongly criticized the government of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

“We express our solidarity and our closeness to the faithful and to the priests” of these parishes, who “live in an atmosphere of concern for their personal safety and the impossibility of exercising their right to live and celebrate their faith in an atmosphere of peace and freedom,” the statement from the Archdiocese reads.

The crisis “has stagnated our society in an atmosphere of insecurity, polarization and intransigence,” the statement said.

The Catholic hierarchy has become the only voice capable of publicly opposing the regime, which has jailed all political opponents who expressed an interest in running for president last year. At least 180 government opponents are imprisoned in Nicaragua. In the 2021 election, Ortega won a fourth consecutive term since 2007.

On Sunday evening, the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua released its own statement, saying that as the country lives through “difficult times”, the work of the Church is to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, “in communion with the Successor of Peter and every bishop of our ecclesiastical province of Nicaragua, with every priest and all the people of God.

They expressed “particular solidarity” with Alvarez, who feels “his personal safety is threatened” and who has been deprived of his right to live and celebrate his faith and fulfill his pastoral mission in peace.

Earlier this month, deputies from two National Assembly committees discussed “clerics and directors of human rights organizations involved in the coup adventure”.

Following these “discussions”, Ortega’s government expressed its intention to imprison the alleged “treason”. Together with his wife, they branded the Catholic hierarchy as terrorists, coup plotters and devil’s offspring.

Although this latest crackdown did not go beyond “arresting the church,” the government is working to silence church leaders: Over the weekend, Ortega and his wife closed the television channel of the episcopal conference.

While relations between the Church and the State in Nicaragua have long been pendulum, they have deteriorated sharply since April 2018, when bishops and priests opened the doors of their churches to demonstrators injured by the police, since it doctors were forbidden to treat them in public hospitals. .

Ortega had initially asked the bishops to conduct a dialogue, but when those talks broke down, he and his wife began calling on the organizers of the prelates’ coup.

The last to attack the bishops was Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, Ortega’s son, who on Twitter said that “under every cassock there is an ordinary man, full of vices, greed and impure thoughts”.

Speaking from Miami, Bishop Silvio Baez, the Managua Auxiliary who left the country in 2019 due to threats against him and his family, said during Sunday Mass that “we are not afraid of those who threaten with prison, exile or death. They will try to weed out the shepherds and prophets who discover their lies and wickedness, but they will not. [defeat] their testimonies of the gospel and the love people have for them.

“The powers of this world stand threatening against the Church, but the peace of Jesus makes her stronger,” he said. “Do not be fooled by those who want to silence the voice of the Church. The Church will not be defeated by the dark forces of evil, nor by the dragon of violence. He will not negotiate the truth, he will not cease to denounce injustice, nor will he cease to be a humble servant of the people, comforter of the poor and defender of the victims.

Earlier this year, Ortega said the papal representative in Nicaragua persona non grata and expelled him from Nicaragua.

The bishops of Costa Rica and Panama issued statements on Sunday calling for an end to the harassment, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights followed suit on Twitter, stating: “The police siege of the priests of the Catholic Church reconfirms that in Nicaragua, no one is safe from the relentless persecution of divergence, of the demand for justice and now of pastoral work.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma


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