Ongoing religious persecution of Nicaraguan Catholics, including major incidents during Holy Week, show the need for the U.S. government and the international community to act, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Thursday.

“As we continue to celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection during this Easter season, I reaffirm our unwavering solidarity with the bishops, priests, faithful, and all men and women of goodwill in Nicaragua, who are suffering an intensification of the Nicaraguan government’s religious persecution,” Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said April 20.

“In addition to a ban on traditional Holy Week outdoor celebrations and processions, the faithful have endured consistent police harassment in churches throughout Nicaragua, confiscation of property, as well as the expulsion from the country of two women religious and a priest,” Malloy said.

Tensions between the Daniel Ortega government and the bishops have worsened since the citizen protests of April 2018 in which the bishops tried to serve as mediators. The dictatorship strongly repressed the protests.

During Holy Week, the police arrested at least 15 Nicaraguans who were mostly faithful Catholics and critics of the regime, according to the nongovernmental organization Blue and White Monitoring. Those arrested include 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.

The U.S. bishops lamented the situation of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matalgalpa, who was “unjustly sentenced” and “languishes in prison.” In February the Nicaraguan bishop refused to be deported to the U.S. and decided to stay with 37 political prisoners. He was declared guilty of treason, sentenced to a 26-year prison sentence, and stripped of his citizenship.

“Despite these extreme hardships, the Nicaraguan faithful, in union with their bishops and priests, have resiliently borne witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection, as they attended Easter celebrations in record numbers,” the U.S. bishops said.

“I call on the United States government and the entire international community to continue to work for the release of Bishop Álvarez and for a restoration of peace and the rule of law in Nicaragua,” said Malloy, speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops’ conference. “May Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States and Nicaragua, embrace her children during this difficult time and illumine them with the light of the risen Christ.”

On April 15, Ortega again attacked the Catholic Church during a meeting with Luo Zhaohui, president of the China International Development Cooperation Agency.

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During the meeting, Ortega claimed that Bishop Álvarez was “dedicated to boycotting and sabotaging economic and production activities in Matagalpa.” Ortega also attacked the country’s bishops and claimed they had given an “ultimatum” for the state to dismantle all branches of the government.

In recent years, the Ortega government has detained, imprisoned, and likely tortured numerous Catholic leaders.

In addition, the Ortega regime has repressed Catholic radio and television stations and driven Catholic religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity, from the country.