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ROME – As the government’s pressure against the Catholic Church continues to grow in Nicaragua, so does the pressure for the Vatican to break its silence, with over 60 NGOs and civil associations sending a letter to Pope Francis urging him “not to leave us alone.”
They say that the “persecution and hatred of the regime against the Catholic Church has no justification,” because the hierarchy had done nothing but “fulfill the commandment of love and comfort to the weakest and most oppressed.”
President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, accuse the bishops of being accomplices in an attempted coup d’état. Yet, those addressing Francis write that all they have done is to seek a peaceful and democratic solution to the deep crisis that consumes the country.
“We know the enormous responsibilities that fall on your shoulders in these difficult and complex times for humanity,” wrote the 61 organizations in their letter to the pope. “Nicaragua is a small and impoverished country, but we are a people who only want to live in peace and freedom.”
“We are a group of Nicaraguan citizens forced to live in exile fleeing violence, persecution and permanent violation of our human rights,” they wrote.
They also mentioned that “for several years we have been living through this political crisis in Nicaragua, which has worsened in recent months. We are victims of the official violence of a state under the control and domination of Daniel Ortega, his wife Rosario Murillo and their blind followers.”
Though only Nicaraguans in exile signed the missive, “civil society and territorial organizations that are inside Nicaragua and exposed to state terrorism subscribe anonymously,” the letter said.
Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa has been under virtual house arrest for nine days, after the police blockaded the diocesan offices, leaving him, five priests, and six lay people inside, with no access to food or water.
Crux has been able to confirm with sources close to the situation that the government wants Alvarez either in prison or in exile, and is attempting a negotiation with the Vatican. If the pope were to order him to leave Nicaragua, he would be the second bishop forced into exile: Bishop Silvio Baez, auxiliary of Managua, has been living in Miami since late 2019.
If Ortega decided to exile Alvarez without the pope’s order, there would be a precedent: During his first administration in the 1980s, he forced Bishop Pablo Vega out of the Central American nation in 1986, accusing him of opposing the regime.
In the letter sent to Pope Francis, the organizations shared the various abuses and human rights violations that the Ortega “dictatorship” has committed against the people, such as the murder by paramilitaries and police of more than 380 people, “victims of state repression.”
Currently, there are at least 180 political prisoners in the country.
“In Nicaragua, impunity prevails and the regime has plunged the country into a de facto state of emergency,” they wrote.
In 2018, when a series of massive peaceful protests spiraled into weeks of violence perpetrated by the authorities, the bishops were invited by the Ortega administration to witness and facilitate national dialogue, which failed. A similar effort was spearheaded by the papal representative in Nicaragua, but that one failed too. Earlier this year, the government forced the archbishop out of the country.
“Our pastors cannot be accused of having promoted a coup d’état,” they wrote. “The church in Nicaragua is being persecuted and martyred by a regime that claims to be Christian and Catholic, that manipulates the external manifestations of religiosity and Marian devotion for political ends and with this offends the Catholic faith.”