ROME – On Saturday, Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes blessed several images of Our Lady of Fatima that would go to each diocese.
On Sunday, the government banned the priest from the diocese of Matagalpa, where the local bishop is under virtual house arrest, from receiving the image.
Father Erick Diaz, parish priest in the town of Tuma-La Dalia, was informed by the police that he was banned from going to the cathedral to welcome the image.
Hundreds of faithful who were driving towards the cathedral to venerate the image of Mary were sent back to their homes, in the latest anti-Catholic Church move by the regime of Daniel Ortega.
Bishop Rolando Alvarez, of Matagalpa, has been under “church arrest” for 12 days, banned from leaving the diocesan headquarters, where he is confined with six priests and five lay people, including two seminarians. Police and pro-government militia are guarding the headquarters. Friends of those inside have been banned from giving them food, water or medicine, and sources have told Crux the situation is getting worse by the day inside the compound.
Despite Alvarez’s confinement, a replica of the image of Our Lady of Fatima was scheduled to arrive at the cathedral on Sunday. It was sent off by Brenes on Saturday, who closed the National Marian Congress in the cathedral of Managua. He blessed nine images of the Virgin that were to be distributed across the county.
A pilgrim replica of the original image, which was made in Portugal, had been going through the country visiting parishes for the past year and a half.
At the closing moments of the Mass, the faithful chanted support for Alvarez: “Rolando, our friend, the people are with you.”
On Friday, the government told the archdiocese that the planned procession of the image was banned due to “reasons of internal safety.”
During his homily, Brenes said the congregation gathered “with a lot of happiness, but also with a lot of sadness” due to “the situation we have lived in our parishes.”
“Forgive them Lord, because they know not what they do,” Brenes said.
Also on Saturday, Alvarez celebrated Mass from the diocesan curia, and broadcast it on Facebook Live.
“On this 10th day detained in the curia, we want to pray especially for children, so that we, the adults, are able to pass onto them a better society than the one we have been able to build, one where peace, justice, holiness, and freedom reign,” he said.
Alvarez also prayed for a society “without exclusion,” that “prioritizes the poor,” and not run by “vengeance and resentment, but by love and friendship.”
Although Pope Francis and all his closest advisers have remained mum on the situation in Nicaragua – the last time the pontiff spoke about this country publicly was in 2019 – the Holy See’s permanent observer to the Organization of American States voiced concern during a special session of the body’s permanent council.
Monsignor Juan Antonio Cruz called for “finding paths of understanding based on reciprocal respect and trust, looking above all for the common good and peace.”
During the session, 27 countries approved a resolution condemning “the forced closure of nongovernmental organizations and the harassment and arbitrary restrictions placed on religious organizations” in Nicaragua. There was one vote against and four abstentions.
Police have not allowed large public gatherings, except those sponsored by the government or the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party, since September 2018.
Though Ortega’s regime has always had an authoritarian aspect, things became worse following huge street protests in April 2018, when a student-led revolution called for the fall of the regime.
There were two attempts at talks to resolve the crisis, in which the Catholic bishops took part at Ortega’s request, but they collapsed.
Since that point the Ortega regime has treated the Catholic Church as an enemy of the state.
In 2021, after imprisoning all the opposition leaders, Ortega was once again reelected president. With the consolidation of his power, he has felt emboldened to tighten his control over dissenting voices, closing more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations. Among them, were the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Theresa of Kolkata, who were exiled from the country earlier this year.
Dozens of Catholic radio and television stations have been closed in recent months, though some have challenged the government by broadcasting over the internet.