Listen to this story:
ROSARIO, Argentina – As a Nicaraguan bishop remains under what amounts to house arrest, prevented from leaving his diocesan headquarters by security forces acting on the orders of President Daniel Ortega, other Catholic prelates in the country are voicing support for their colleague.
“The Bishops’ Conference of Nicaragua, in light of the situation that our brother in the episcopate, Monsignor Rolando Jose Alvarez Lagos, is living, want to express our fraternity, friendship and episcopal communion with him, since this situation touches our hearts as bishops and as members of the Nicaraguan church: ‘Because if one member suffers, we all suffer with him’,” said a statement read by all the country’s bishops at Masses in their dioceses on Sunday.
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the prelates said that the church of Nicaragua proclaims the Gospel of Peace, “and is open to collaboration with all national and international authorities.” Quoting Pope St. John Paul II, the bishops called for the building of a “civilization of love.”
Pope Francis, so far, has not spoken out on Alvarez’s detention. However, sources with knowledge of the issue have told Crux the pontiff’s silence may be due to attempts, so far unsuccessful, to defend him behind the scenes.
Those efforts, observers say, explain why Alvarez has not yet been taken to prison despite more than 48 hours of detention at the curia building in Matagalpa in northeastern Nicaragua.
Although Pope Francis prayed publicly for Nicaragua in April 2018, when a civil uprising led to massive protests violently repressed by the government, it has been years since he last spoke out about the Central American nation.
The last time Francis mentioned Nicaragua during his major speeches at the end of the year and during the Easter season was in 2019.
Nicaragua and the Holy See have had no official diplomatic relations since earlier this year, when Ortega declared the papal representative in the country persona non grata and expelled him. Ortega recalled his own ambassador from Rome late last year.
Several bishops’ conferences, including CELAM, which brings together the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, have expressed their support for Alvarez since the de facto arrest began Thursday.
Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of El Salvador said Friday that the “persecution” of the Nicaraguan church by government authorities is currently the “most horrendous case” of “martyrdom” in the region.
“Martyrdom continues to be a reality also in our days,” said Chavez, the successor of St. Oscar Romero. “In our region, the most horrendous case is that of the persecution suffered by the church in Nicaragua.”
Since the 2018 crisis, which saw 355 people killed by pro-Ortega forces, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has suffered more than 250 aggressions by the regime, including beatings of priests, desecration of temples, armed attacks, burnings and sieging of church property, and the illegal closure of news outlets, among others. Last month, 15 members of the Missionaries of Charity were expelled from the country, accused of financing terrorism.
In that context, Alvarez is seen as one of the most critical voices in Nicaragua’s Catholic hierarchy. His sermons frequently denounce human rights violations, religious persecution and abuses of power.
Both Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have accused Nicaragua’s Catholic Church of supporting a citizen rebellion that began in April 2018, which they described as an “attempted coup d’état,” and maintain a constant siege against some priests and bishops, including placing a permanent police guardhouse by the door of the home of Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua.
On Monday, the Ortega regime ordered the closure of all Catholic radio stations in Matagalpa, and police forces raided the chapel Niño Jesús de Praga in the nearby city of Sébaco, with the intention of seizing the equipment of the Catholic radio station that operated there.
As the Italian blog “Il Sismografo,” followed closely by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, pointed out Sunday, Alvarez’s situation is the most serious at the moment but it is not the only one in Nicaragua, nor is it random.
“Above all, it appears like déjà vu, sad and tragic for the faithful and holy People of God in Nicaragua, which, three years ago, saw the Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Bishop Silvio Báez, in open conflict with the Ortega dictatorship because he was a staunch and uncompromising defender of human rights and civil liberties, go into involuntary exile – at the express wish of Pope Francis,” reads a Sunday post.
In May of this year, Alvarez denounced in a video the “persecution” he was suffering from the Sandinista regime and announced an indefinite fast until the harassment ceased.
This Thursday, early in the morning, Alvarez defied the police trying to prevent him from leaving the curia by carrying the Blessed Sacrament through the street by the diocesan offices. In a video recorded by some of his assistants, he can be seen placing the Eucharist in front of several agents and police officials, who recoil uncomfortably.
“This is a battle between good and evil,” he proclaimed.
During the 1980s, Alvarez refused to perform the obligatory military service required of young men by the Sandinista revolution, led, in part, by Ortega. He ended up in exile in Guatemala, having been imprisoned three times before he fled the country.
Some pro-government politicians insinuated on Friday that the bishop could be imprisoned under charges of “incitement to violence” and “crimes against spirituality.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma