Sen. Marco Rubio asks Pope Francis to call for release of bishop imprisoned in Nicaragua

Pope Francis Marco Rubio Pope Francis and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. | Credit: Vatican Media; Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is urging Pope Francis to call for Nicaraguan authorities to release Bishop Rolando José Álvarez, who was sentenced to 26 years in prison for criticizing President Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship. 

The bishop, who is a prominent critic of the socialist president, was arrested in August 2022 for “conspiracy to undermine national security and sovereignty and the propagation of fake news” for his criticisms of the dictatorship. At his sentencing, the regime called him a “traitor to the country.”

Ortega’s regime has arrested several priests, shut down Catholic radio and television stations, and forced Catholic religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity, to leave Nicaragua. More than 200 political prisoners were deported to the United States in February and given asylum, but Álvarez refused to renounce his citizenship and join them. 

In a Dec. 13 letter to Pope Francis, Rubio asked the pontiff to intercede on behalf of the 57-year-old bishop and call for a restoration of religious freedom in Nicaragua. 

“I humbly ask that you intercede for the release of Bishop Álvarez and the right to worship for all Catholics in Nicaragua,” Rubio said. “I endeavor to follow your counsel to take refuge in the word of God and pray for those in Nicaragua who are persecuted for their faith.”

Rubio, a Catholic and the son of Cuban immigrants whose family fled the communist takeover of the country, said in his letter that Álvarez “has been a loyal shepherd of the Catholic faith and the essential dignity of all human life in Nicaragua.” The letter added that the bishop “has used his ministry to call for the respect of fundamental, God-given human rights in his country, which led the Ortega regime to view the Catholic Church as a threat to its illegitimate rule.”

The senator criticized the Ortega regime’s suppression of Catholics and praised the bishop for his courage. 

“It is a testament to the courage of Catholics everywhere that Bishop Álvarez refused this offer [to receive asylum in the United States] in order to continue to courageously stand with those in Nicaragua that remain unjustly detained,” Rubio said. 

Rubio expressed his “earnest wish that you [Pope Francis] enhance your efforts to seek his immediate and unconditional release” and said he is praying for Pope Francis and the Holy See in their deliberations. 

In March, Ortega’s regime shut down the Vatican embassy in Nicaragua. Pope Francis has criticized the dictatorship and the imprisonment of Álvarez, even comparing the tactics to Adolf Hitler’s rule in Germany and communist rule in the Soviet Union. 

“It is something out of line with reality,” Pope Francis said in March. “It is as if we were bringing back the communist dictatorship of 1917 or the Hitler dictatorship of 1935.”

“With much respect, I have no choice but to think that the person who leads [Ortega] is unstable,” the pontiff said.

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