SÃO PAULO, Brazil – An Indigenous Nicaraguan priest who was in the United States for missionary activities has been prevented from returning to his country by the government of President Daniel Ortega, according to reports.

Father Rodolfo French Naar, a member of the Miskito Indigenous people who is the vicar of a community in the city of Waspán, on the border with Honduras, tried to take a plane back to Nicaragua after spending some time in the U.S. and was prevented from doing so, lawyer Martha Patricia Molina told the press.

Molina, a Nicaraguan activist who currently lives in exile in the U.S., has been following the persecution of members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua by Ortega’s regime. She said the information about French’s situation was relayed to her by people who know the priest.

According to the version of events presented by Molina, French received a message from the airline telling him that Nicaraguan immigration authorities had said he was not allowed to get into the country, so he would not be able to take his flight. No further explanations were given to the priest.

Up to this point, the Nicaraguan government hasn’t released information about French’s case.

French was born in the community of San Carlos by the Coco river, which divides the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region in Nicaragua from Honduras. According to the Miami-based website Café con Voz, which interviewed him in 2020, French left the North Caribbean Coast in 1985, along with three other Miskito friends, and headed to the seminary in Managua.

His experience with the Church began in his childhood. His father was a carpenter, he said in the interview, and used to build and restore churches throughout the region. French was ordained in 1995 after studying philosophy, theology and canon law.

French worked as a priest in the city of Puerto Cabezas and had been the vicar of the Saint Raphael Archangel parish in the city of Waspán, loated in the diocese of Siuna, since 2019. There he founded a radio station, La Voz de San Rafael, which broadcasts Catholic shows locally and also through the internet.

According to Café con Voz, the area under French’s responsibility covers about 120 miles of Coco river’s margins and the mountains that extend to the countryside. The priest had to take boats in order to visit many faraway communities. The territory has been occupied by the Miskito people since time immemorial, and was part of the Miskito kingdom between the 16th and 19th centuries.

The Miskito were mostly isolated from the Spanish colonial territories, remaining under the influence of the British for centuries. With the arrival of European colonizers and African slaves brought from nearby Caribbean islands, the Miskito underwent a miscegenation process. They were able, however, to keep their native language.

Most celebrations in French’s communities are carried out in Miskito language, and not in Spanish. According to Café con Voz, he translated several liturgical books into his original language.

It has always been considered a great blessing by many Miskitos to have priests celebrating in their own language. The first time French visited the Cabo Gracias a Dios community, he learned that several Miskito men from Honduras had walked for three days in order to meet with the “Miskito priest,” Café con Voz reported.

In 2020, French made great efforts to help the local communities devastated by two hurricanes. He distributed hundreds of food kits all along the Coco river.

French has a large family in the region of Waspán. One of his relatives, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, was shocked when he learned that the priest wouldn’t go back to Nicaragua.

“What harm could he possibly do? He’s a good man and has good values,” the person told Crux.

French’s relative said that the priest last visited the distant community where part of their family lives in October 2022.

“He told us that it was the last time he would come and said goodbye to all of us. I think he predicted something would happen,” the relative said.

The person said that French has done great things in Waspán and that he will certainly be missed.

According to Molina, the number of priests persecuted by Ortega’s regime has been continuously increasing. She told the press that she recently learned that 12 priests either had to escape from Nicaragua to save their lives or were impeded to go back to the country after traveling abroad.