MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Managua’s Catholic archbishop celebrated Mass on Wednesday in front of a fire-scorched chapel at the capital’s cathedral and reiterated the church’s assertion that the fire was a “savage and terrorist” act and not an accident as reported by the National Police.
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes did not say who he believes was responsible for Friday’s fire.
Holding up the charred head of the Christ figure from a widely venerated four centuries-old wooden crucifix that hung inside the chapel, Brenes said Nicaragua’s Catholics are living in an “atmosphere of great sadness and pain.”
The fire came amid a number of attacks on smaller churches around Nicaragua’s interior in recent days.
“Without a doubt the devil is on the loose,” Brenes said. “He wants to hurt the church, the bishops, the priests, our religious, our faithful.”
Holding Mass at the scene was a strong message to those responsible that the Catholic Church rejects the official explanation first offered by Vice President Rosario Murillo on Friday and then repeated by the police at the conclusion of their investigation Monday. The Mass was broadcast live on social media by the church, but held without the public present.
Police said fumes from a disinfectant spray used on the hands of those visiting the chapel had accumulated and then been ignited by a candle. On Tuesday, Brenes told a local television station that he respected the police analysis, “but we maintain our position that it was a criminal act. What we said Friday we maintain still.”
Pope Francis prayed for Nicaragua on Sunday and his top diplomatic envoy to Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag, said Monday that he had asked the government for a “serious, careful and transparent” investigation.
The relationship between the Church and President Daniel Ortega’s administration has been more tense since anti-government protests erupted in April 2018. Ortega initially asked the church to mediate, but when the dialogue failed to advance, he accused church leaders of siding with the opposition in a failed attempt to force him from office.