A group of police officers from the Daniel Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua arrived at a parish Aug. 16 with the intention of arresting the pastor, forcing the celebration of Mass outside the church by the parochial vicar.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, contacted Santa Lucía parish in the Diocese of Matagalpa, where this morning a group of police officers arrived asking for the pastor, Father Vicente Martín.

A person at the parish, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear for his personal safety “and because we don’t know if the phones are tapped,” said that the police arrived at the church at 5:55 a.m. local time and that the day before they had also been there in the afternoon.

“To protect the priest, the parochial vicar, Father Sebastián López, came out and told the police that Father Vicente was not in the church,” the person said.

So the police stayed outside waiting for the pastor.

The person told ACI Prensa that at 6:30 a.m. the bells were rung once for Mass, drawing a large group of the faithful.

“The gates to the fencing (enclosing the open area in front of the church)  weren’t opened up because if they were, the police would get in” and gain entrance to the church, the person said.

López celebrated Mass by improvising the altar with a table outside the church, while the faithful participated behind the fencing. The police looked on and were joined by riot police.

“There were a lot of people crying, a lot of people praying. Many said ‘you are not alone,’” the person said.

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Along with the two priests at Santa Lucía parish, there are nine other people in the rectory.

The dictatorship has recently ramped up harassment and intimidation of the Catholic Church.

Over the weekend, three priests were prevented by the police from going to the cathedral in Managua to receive a replica statue of the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The police searched the pickup truck that one of the priests was traveling in and confiscated the vehicle registration and proof of insurance as well as the driver’s license. Another of the priests was arrested.

The bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, has been held under house arrest at the chancery along with five priests, two seminarians and three lay people since Aug. 4. The chancery is surrounded by police and is under aerial surveillance by drones.

In a press release published Aug. 5, the Nicaraguan national police accused high-ranking authorities of the Catholic Church in Matagalpa — and Álvarez in particular — of “using the communications media and social media” to try to “organize violent groups, inciting them to carry out acts of hatred against the population, creating an atmosphere of anxiety and disorder, disturbing the peace and harmony of the community.”

Such actions have the “purpose of destabilizing the State of Nicaragua and attacking the constitutional authorities,” the press release continued.

The Ortega regime’s police force announced it has already started an investigation “in order to determine the criminal responsibility of the people involved.”

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The statement adds that “the people under investigation shall remain in their homes.”

Ortega, who has been in power for 15 years, has been openly hostile to the Catholic Church in the country. He alleged bishops were part of an attempted coup to drive him out of office in 2018 because they supported anti-government demonstrations that his regime brutally suppressed. The Nicarguan president has called the bishops “terrorists” and “devils in cassocks.”

According to a report titled “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018–2022),” compiled by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, in less than four years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the target of 190 attacks and desecrations, including a fire in the Managua Cathedral as well as police harassment and persecution of bishops and priests.

On Aug. 6, unidentified vandals stole the main switch to the cathedral’s electrical control system, leaving the cathedral and surrounding grounds without power. The stolen switch has been replaced, restoring electricity.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.