ROME – Days after Nicaragua’s vice president accused the country’s top cardinal of “blessing” the anti-government demonstrations of 2018 and warning that she would neither forgive nor forget it, the prelate spoke of forgiveness while warning against temporal power.
“The kingdoms of this world are fragile; they do not have a strong foundation, although they often give the impression of having them, but they do not,” said Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes on Sunday, during the Palm Sunday celebration in Managua’s metropolitan cathedral. “Christ comes to establish a kingdom that has a strong foundation, an important and key element of this kingdom of God is forgiveness.”
Vice President Rosario Murillo recently accused the cardinal of “blessing” the 2018 demonstrations against the government of her husband, President Daniel Ortega. Though a proposed change in the pension fund was the spark that lit the fire, the crisis had been brewing for a long time. The protesters demanded the resignation of the longtime president, and were violently suppressed by the government. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), at least 355 people died. The government said the death toll was 200.
“For those who dared to bless the crimes, there can be no forgiveness, and there can be no forgetting, neither forgiveness nor forgetting for the criminals, neither forgiveness nor forgetting for the terrorists, for the bloodthirsty, for the promoters of horror, of anxiety, for those who lie and deceive, false, also as prophets and pastors,” Murillo had said last week. “Neither forgiveness nor forgetfulness for those who blasphemed and pronounced the name of God in vain.”
The government has long battled the country’s Catholic bishops, and the rift with the Vatican deepened this year, when Nicaragua declared the Vatican’s ambassador persona non grata.
Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, his second time at the helm of the Central American country. He originally came to power in 1979, as coordinator of the Junta of National Reconstruction and then president, serving until 1990.
Since the 2018 protests, Catholic churches have been attacked, including the Managua cathedral in 2020, when a home-made explosive damaged the building. In 2019, Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez left his diocese at Pope Francis’s request after receiving several death threats, and is now in Miami.
When the civil uprising began, the country’s bishops and the papal nuncio, at Ortega’s request, attempted to mediate a national dialogue between protesters and the government. When the initiative failed, the prelates were blamed by the regime and accused by the government of being “coup perpetrators.”
The bishops have largely avoided a direct confrontation with the government, despite their criticisms of Ortega’s policies and actions.
Yet on Palm Sunday, the cardinal couldn’t avoid showing his frustration, and spoke about what a heart truly incapable of forgiving looks like: “It is a heart that is truly enraged, that is in darkness, and can make it public and shout it: I do not forgive, I do not have the capacity to forgive, we will never forgive,” Brenes said, and then quoted the biblical phrase: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The cardinal also celebrated the believers: “During this time of Lent, we have been able to go to our confessors and been able to receive not outrages, not pointing fingers, but we have received the ‘I absolve you in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, this is the characteristic of the kingdom, it is the characteristic of Jesus Christ.”
He also took the opportunity to recommend to the faithful to ask God for the ability to forgive.
“How can I not ask the Lord that I may have the capacity to forgive, that He may grant me the grace to be able to untie those hatreds, that confrontation, those feelings, to be able to be followers of Jesus,” he stressed.