Nicaraguan cardinal urges ‘trust in the Lord’ as crisis continues

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ROME – Nine days after the arbitrary house arrest of a bishop in Nicaragua, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes urged the people on Sunday to trust “fully in the Lord, not in strategies.”

Brenes was originally scheduled to be in Rome this weekend to take part in the consistory for the creation of new cardinals on Saturday.

However, due to the poor health of his mother, Brenes decided at the last minute to stay home. 

During his Sunday Mass in Managua’s cathedral, he said that “the strength of the humble is the Lord, (is) to trust fully in the Lord, not in strategies, not in human means, not in the logic of this world, not in calculations, not in great speeches, not in applause.”

Brenes was created a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2014. In 2018 the cardinal attended a consistory in Rome accompanied by Bishop Rolando Alvarez, and the two updated the pontiff on Nicaragua’s socio-economic crisis. 

Alvarez has been under house arrest in Managua since Aug. 19, after being prevented by police from leaving his diocesan headquarters for two weeks. 

During that period, Vice President Rosario Murillo said that Alvarez was being investigated for “crimes against spirituality.” After he was formally placed under house arrest, Nicaragua’s police claimed that Alvarez had been imprisoned following attempts by the authorities to hold a dialogue with the bishop. Police said they were calling on him to cease his “destabilizing and provocative” actions. 

Several priests and seminarians who had been with the bishop were arrested, and sent to the infamous El Chipote prison, where President Daniel Ortega keeps some 190 political prisoners.

Francis has spoken about the ongoing effort to silence voices of dissent in the country, particularly among the Catholic hierarchy. The bishops are the only opposition remaining, after the Ortega regime closed newspapers and radio stations, hundreds of NGOs, and even expelled 15 members of the Missionaries of Charity. On Sunday, Aug. 21, following Alvarez’ arrest, the pontiff expressed his concern and pain for the situation in Nicaragua and asked for “an open and sincere dialogue” so that “the basis for a respectful and peaceful coexistence can be found.”

Francis’s words did not improve the situation of Alvarez, rather they are fueling internal debate on what the Catholic Church should do for his release. 

A possible meeting between Brenes and Francis this week was seen as a chance to clarify the Vatican’s stance, since the government expelled the Holy See’s representative to the country.

Brenes said on Sunday that the situation will be resolved.

“Always the Lord, in the midst of our problems, of difficult situations, will always find a moment in which he makes himself present,” he said.

Last week, the priests of the diocese of Esteli in northern Nicaragua, of which Alvarez is the apostolic administrator, accused the Ortega regime of “persecuting the church for its prophetic mission” in an open letter.

The government is persecuting the church “because it is the only one capable of denouncing its constant violations of human rights, forgetting that when they persecute the church, in the person of its servants – the bishops, the priests, the laity – it is Christ himself whom they are persecuting,” the letter said.

The incitement to hatred and violence was initiated by Ortega, the clerics claimed, when in an official act the government “publicly accused some bishops of being coup plotters, terrorists and, since then, there are countless times when you, who should set an example of civility and respect, throw all kinds of insults, offenses and defamations.”

Bishop Silvio Baez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, was asked to leave the country by Pope Francis in 2019 after the Nicaraguan prelate began receiving death threats.

Speaking from St. Agatha’s Church in Miami on Sunday, the bishop denounced the Ortega regime for having detained Alvarez, and asked for his release along with the other priests held in captivity.

Alvarez, he said, “is deprived of his freedom, kidnapped, by the police of the dictatorship. I join him in his loneliness, in his pain, and I ask everyone to join him. A bishop is a successor of the apostles, and together with him, I think of the priests, seminarians and lay people of Matagalpa, who are in a torture prison of the dictatorship in Managua and for all the political prisoners. All this is unjust! All this is organized violence, which we can neither accept nor forget.”

Baez also emphasized the lack of humility of dictators: “The history of our peoples demonstrates this with arrogant dictators, who deify themselves and impose themselves with irrationality and violence. There are tyrants who not only want to be the first, but the only ones: the only ones who have a voice, the only ones who decide, the only ones who think.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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