Central American bishops support Nicaraguan clergy in face of persecution

Daniel Ortega celebrates his re inauguration as president of Nicaragua Jan 10 2012 Credit Cancillera del Ecuador via Flickr CC BY SA 20 CNA Daniel Ortega celebrates his re-inauguration as president of Nicaragua, Jan. 10, 2012. | Cancilleria del Ecuador via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The bishops’ conferences of Costa Rica and Panama expressed their solidarity with the people and Catholic clergy of Nicaragua, who have been suffering persecution from the government of President Daniel Ortega.

On May 20, the state-owned Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Mail eliminated the television channel of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference from its programming.

In addition, Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa and Father Harvy Padilla, pastor of the Saint John the Baptist church in Masaya, have been followed and harassed by the government’s police.

Álvarez, who is in charge of communications for the bishops’ conference and the Catholic channel, said that what the government wants "is a mute Church, that doesn’t announce the hope of the people" and doesn’t denounce "personal sin and structures of injustice.”

"The Word of God is not chained," the bishop said during a May 21 impromptu press conference at Holy Christ of Esquipulas parish on the outskirts of Managua.

In a May 21 statement, the bishops of Costa Rica  prayed that "the Risen Lord would grant the Nicaraguan people the gift of peace, so they can have a climate of calm and brotherhood."

The Costa Rican bishops also assured their Nicaraguan counterparts of their "prayer, especially in times of trial." 

"We pray to God to allow them to remain faithful to their mission and grant them a spirit of wisdom," they said.

They also called on the Catholic people of Costa Rica "to lift up in prayer the people of Nicaragua and the bishops of that nation.”

"We reiterate the need for our Central American peoples in general to work together in the search for the common good, peace and social justice," the bishops wrote.

The Panamanian bishops also expressed  their solidarity with Bishop Álvarez "at this time when he is experiencing persecution for being a prophet in the face of the difficult situation due to the sociopolitical crisis that the Nicaraguan people are experiencing.”

“We join in prayer so that the persecution of Bishop Rolando and Father Harvy Padilla, pastor of the Saint John the Baptist Parish in the city of Masaya, who has also been restricted from living and celebrating the faith in an environment of freedom and peace, will end,” the bishops said May 21.

The Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference also issued a statement stating that they are “going through difficult times as a nation" and that their duty "is to announce the truth of the Gospel."

“We accompany each brother who is associated with the sufferings of Christ through prayer and we invoke the Holy Spirit to be the one who illuminates the minds and hearts of all Nicaraguans,” the bishops said May 22.

There have been tensions in recent years between some Catholics and supporters of Ortega, who previously led the country for over a decade after the Sandinistas' 1979 ouster of the Somoza dictatorship. Ortega has again been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

Ortega's government has accused many bishops and priests of siding with his opposition.

A crisis began in April 2018 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protesters were killed by security forces.

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Security forces have killed at least 320 protesters, with hundreds more arrested.

Since the protests began, there has been a series of attacks against clergy, churches and church facilities targeted by pro-government bands.

The apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua was expelled in March.

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