Nicaraguan regime arrests bishop in overnight raid

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ROME – According to local reports, after two weeks of virtual house arrest in the curia house, Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, was taken away by police in a convoy of at least eight patrol cars at approximately 3 a.m.

100%Noticias, a Nicaraguan news outlet, reports that eyewitnesses saw the bishop, together with eight of those who had been forced to remain at the curia, being taken out of the city.

Boletin Ecologico, another local news outlet, has videos of the church bells ringing to warn the people of Matagalpa that the police were taking the bishop, in the early morning hours of Friday, Aug. 19.

Among those who have confirmed that the police “kidnapped” the bishop is Father Edwin Roman, who was forced into exile last year. He has been living in Miami, along with Bishop Silvio Baez, auxiliary of Managua, who was asked to leave the country by Pope Francis.

RELATED: Nicaragua bishops rally to support prelate detained by Ortega’s forces

Several sources have told Crux in recent days that the government of Ortega wants to silence Alvarez “at any cost” and that the bishop was offered to either leave the country or face prison. The prelate, who was exiled in the 1980s by the Sandinista revolution that first brought Ortega to power, has steadily refused to leave Nicaragua.

If the regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, stay true to form, the bishop and those with him will be taken to the infamous El Chipote prison in Managua, where over 190 political prisoners are being held.

RELATED: Explaining the tension between Nicaragua and the Catholic Church

Alvarez, together with five priests and six laity, had been trapped in the curia since Aug. 3. The following day, the police released a statement saying the bishop was being investigated. Three lay people had been allowed to leave the curia before the police raid.

The police statement accused the bishop of “organizing violent groups, inciting them to carry out acts of hatred against the people,” with the intention of “destabilizing the State.”

“Formally they have said that our house is our prison,” the bishop said at the time, interpreting the police statement.

Since his house arrest, Alvarez continued to say Mass – broadcast online – with messages focused on forgiveness and a God who “sees it all, and in the Eucharist that conquers darkness and inequality, that in each Mass makes the hells tremble.”

He also said that he and those detained with him were placing their trust in God, “joyful because he is with us, because our strength and internal hope comes from him, our serene joy, our firm hope and conviction that God does not disappoint, that God always has the last word in history and in our history.”

The Vatican has yet to comment on what is happening in Nicaragua, with no high-ranking official even referring to Alvarez’s house arrest.

On Wednesday, 26 former Heads of State of Latin America and Spain expressed their concern over the “religious persecution unleashed by the dictatorship” and asked Pope Francis to come out in defense of the Nicaraguan people and religious freedom.

The Ortega-Murillo regime has long seen the Catholic hierarchy as their enemy, with Baez, Alvarez and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua often being criticized by the regime.

Several bishops’ conferences have also expressed their support for the church in Nicaragua, including CELAM, that regional bishops’ commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras this week said that “this quiet war that they are carrying out to persecute Jesus in his Church in the sister nation of Nicaragua, is not the fire that Jesus came to bring.”

In El Salvador, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, said that the persecution of Catholics in Nicaragua is the “most horrific case of martyrdom” in the region.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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