Pope Francis calls for ‘peaceful coexistence’ and dialogue in Nicaragua

Pope Francis Angelus / serious Pope Francis gives his weekly Angelus address on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. | Vatican Media

Pope Francis called for “peaceful coexistence” between people and institutions in Nicaragua Sunday, at the end of his weekly Angelus message.

“I am closely following, with worry and sorrow, the situation created in Nicaragua, and which involves people and institutions,” the pope said Aug. 21.

“I want to express my conviction and my wish that through an open and sincere dialogue they can find the basis for a respectful and peaceful coexistence,” he added. “Let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady Most Pure, that he inspire such concrete will in the hearts of all.”

Pope Francis’ comments followed the abduction Friday of Bishop Rolando Álvarez by Nicaraguan police.

Police forced their way into the bishop’s residence, where he had been under house arrest for two weeks, during the early hours of Aug. 19. Álvarez is an outspoken critic of the regime of President Daniel Ortega.

As of Aug. 19, Álvarez was being held under house arrest in a residence of his relatives. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, archbishop of Managua, was able to visit the arrested bishop Friday.

Álvarez is the bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa in north-central Nicaragua. Along with eight others — priests, seminarians, and laymen — the bishop had been forcibly confined to the chancery since Aug. 4, and prohibited from receiving food or medicine.

The priests and seminarians were also removed from the chancery Friday, and according to police, are being held “in the Directorate of Judicial Assistance,” in a prison known as “El Chipote,” infamous for torture carried out on opponents of the Ortega dictatorship.

Since 2018, under the Ortega dictatorship, there have been more than 190 attacks against the Catholic Church, its bishops, priests, faithful, and houses of worship, according to a report compiled by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory.

Ortega has repeatedly insulted Catholic bishops and priests, calling them “demons in cassocks,” “terrorists” and “coup plotters.”

In March of this year, the dictatorship expelled the apostolic nuncio in Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. The decision was received with “surprise and pain” by the Vatican.

At the beginning of July, the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and dedicated to caring for the poorest and sickest, were removed from the country.

The regime has also forcibly closed Catholic television and radio stations in the country.

In recent weeks, using the police, the Ortega dictatorship has harassed priests in Nicaragua, especially in the Dioceses of Matagalpa and Siuna, where Father Oscar Benavidez was arrested Aug. 13 for no known reason.

This story was updated at 4:31 a.m. MT with Pope Francis' full comments.

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