The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, has confiscated a cloistered monastery and arrested 20 people for activities related to Holy Week in Nicaragua.

The Trappist sisters of Nicaragua, who left the country in February after 22 years of service, reported April 11 that the government verbally informed the bishop of Juigalpa that the monastery would be taken over by the regime.

The nuns said in a Feb. 27 Facebook post that they voluntarily left the country because of “reasons the order has,” a lack of vocations, and the “old age of several sisters.”

Although they didn’t mention anything about their residency status in Nicaragua, the General Directorate for Migration and Foreigners had issued summonses to various religious and foreign missionaries.

According to the Nicaraguan media outlet 100% Noticias, new requirements are being demanded for such religious to remain in the country.

The sisters explained April 11 on their Facebook page that “we had left the monastery under the administration of the diocese while the voluntary closure of the association was being processed with MIGOB [Ministry of the Interior].”

“On March 1, the document for voluntary closure was presented to MIGOB, and on March 3 the government authorities showed up to verbally inform our bishop that they could no longer go to the monastery and that INTA [Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology] would work there,” the nuns explained.

Consequently, the monastery, which is located in the town of San Pedro de Lóvago in the Diocese of Juigalpa, will now house INTA.

The nuns, who now live in Panama, where they have been “welcomed with great affection and generosity” after their departure from Nicaragua, also asked for financial help to be able to support themselves.

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20 arrests in relation to Holy Week

Félix Maradiaga, a former political prisoner and president and founder of the Foundation for the Freedom of Nicaragua, shared with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, a message that he addressed on April 11 to a group of committed laypeople from different parts of the world.

In his message he charged that “the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo continues its fierce persecution against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.”

“Holy Week, a tradition held in the highest esteem by Nicaraguan parishioners, took place under a wave of repression never seen before. According to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners, as of March 31, 2023, the number of political prisoners in Nicaragua is 36,” Maradiaga explained.

The former presidential candidate, who was running against Ortega when the regime had him arrested, said that in addition to those mentioned, 20 people were arrested in connection with “processions or public activities of the Catholic Church” during Holy Week.

One of those arrested was journalist Víctor Ticay, who was taken into custody by the police on Holy Thursday after he livestreamed a Holy Week event on social media the day before.

After stating that the situation for the Church there is “extremely worrying” and that “Nicaragua has become one of the most hostile countries for Catholic clergy,” Maradiaga warned that the regime seeks to “silence the Church, whose pastoral voice was adverse to the plans of the Ortega-Murillo couple to establish a dynastic tyranny.”

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Ortega has been in power for 15 years, and many consider two of his elections fraudulent.

For Maradiaga, it’s not an exaggeration to describe the dictatorial regime as “satanic.”

“I am referring to the perverse foundations on which the dictatorship is founded and the evil that inspires its actions. It’s a regime thirsty for power and for the blood of innocents,” he charged.

In his opinion, the prohibition of the outdoor Stations of the Cross and of various popular Holy Week devotions, such as that of the “Cyreneans,” to try to control the population “is like rotten fish pretending to be the main course at a dinner.”

After thanking Pope Francis for his criticism of the Ortega dictatorship, Maradiaga warned that it is possible that expulsions will continue, such as the recent expulsion of Panamanian priest Donaciano Alarcón, and therefore “it is essential to increase international condemnation, and that is what we are concentrating on.”

Freedom for Bishop Rolando Álvarez

After noting that the dictatorship employs some 20,000 police officers to repress a country of 6.6 million people and that 9% of the population has left the country in the last four years, Maradiaga called for the release of Bishop Rolando Álvarez.

“As a Catholic, but above all as a Nicaraguan, I feel personally grateful for the courage and dignity of Bishop Rolando Álvarez. His words when rejecting exile, ‘Let them go free, I’ll pay for their sentences,’ have meant a sentence of 26 years in the terrible prisons of the regime,” he said.

“His sacrifice, inspired by the Spirit of God, keeps alive our fight for his freedom and that of the other 36 people who are still being held by the dictatorship,” he added.

Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, was accused of being a “traitor to the country” and sentenced on Feb. 10. The day before, he refused to be deported to the United States and preferred to remain in the “La Modelo” prison in Nicaragua.

Maradiaga called on the Catholics of the world to express their solidarity with the persecuted Church in Nicaragua.

This weekend and the days that follow, marches and events have been scheduled in various cities in the U.S. to demand freedom for Nicaragua and the release of Álvarez.

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