Nicaragua archdiocese demands Ortega regime ends ‘siege’ of church properties

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ROME – With two of its parishes under siege by police, the Archdiocese of Managua demanded that the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega call off the harassment of the church.

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

Since Friday, the police have surrounded the Santo Cristo de las Colinas parish in Managua, where Bishop Rolando Álvarez took refuge on Thursday night and declared a fast in protest against the persecution and harassment he said he suffered all day by the police.

RELATED: Nicaraguan bishop goes on hunger strike to protest police harassment

Álvarez 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 bishops’ conference communications’ office.

Álvarez, who has questioned the repressive tactics against the opposition, said he will fast until the authorities commit to respecting his privacy and that of his family. On a Facebook live video Friday, he complained that the police had entered the family home.

On Sunday, he celebrated Mass using Facebook live, as the police banned the faithful from the parish. They also blocked the priest who was to concelebrate with him from entering the church. During his homily, he said that the peace the church yearns for is not that of “repression, of prisons, of torturers and persecutors,” but one that leads to justice and democracy.

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

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

On Sunday, Padilla, from behind the bars that separate the church from the street where the men and women in uniform have been for over a week, asked them why they were banning the faithful from going in for Mass.

“They have violated the right to our Christian life,” he said. “You have surrounded the entire perimeter of the church, have closed the streets [leading to it]. I would like to know why the faithful is not allowed in for Mass, and why you have me here, locked.”

He also challenged the “arbitrariness of the dictatorship of Ortega,” of banning the faithful from liturgical celebrations, saying that he is “church imprisoned.”

On Saturday night, the electricity was cut off.

Both the bishop and the priest have voiced strong criticism of the government of Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo.

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

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

The Catholic hierarchy has become the only institution able to publicly oppose the regime that incarcerated all the political opponents who voiced an interest in running for the presidency last year. At least 180 government opponents are imprisoned in Nicaragua. In the 2021 elections, Ortega won a fourth consecutive term, and has been in power since 2007.

Late Sunday, the bishops’ conference of Nicaragua released their own statement, saying that as the country lives “difficult moments,” the job of the church is to announce the truth of the Gospel, “in communion with the Successor of Peter and each bishop of our ecclesiastical province of Nicaragua, together with every priest and the entire people of God.”

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

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

Ortega and his wife have referred to the Catholic hierarchy variously as terrorists, coup organizers and “spawns of the devil.”

Though this latest crackdown hasn’t gone beyond “church arrest,” the government is working on silencing church leaders: During the weekend, Ortega and his wife shut down the TV channel of the bishops’ conference.

The relations between church and state in Nicaragua have long been rocky, but they have quickly deteriorated even further since April 2018, when the bishops and priests opened the doors of their churches to protesters wounded by the police; doctors were banned from treating them in public hospitals.

Ortega had originally requested the bishops to lead a dialogue, but when those talks failed, he and his wife began calling the prelates coup organizers.

The latest to attack the bishops was Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, Ortega’s son, who on Twitter said, “under each cassock there is a common man, full of vices, greed and impure thoughts.”

Speaking from Miami, Bishop Silvio Baez, the auxiliary of Managua who left the country in 2019 due to threats to him and his family, said during Sunday’s Mass, “We are not afraid of those who threaten with prison, exile or death. They will try to eliminate shepherds and prophets who discover their lie and evilness, but they won’t [defeat] their witness of the Gospel and the love that the people have for them.”

Earlier this year, the Ortega government declared the papal representative to Nicaragua persona non-grata and expelled him from Nicaragua.

The bishops from Costa Rica and Panama released statements on Sunday calling for an end to the harassment, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights did the same on Twitter, saying: “The police siege of the priests of the Catholic Church reconfirms that in Nicaragua no one is free anymore 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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