Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua, ordained nine new priests in the midst of one of the worst waves of persecution against the Catholic Church in the country by the communist regime headed by President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

During the Mass, celebrated on Jan. 6, the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, the archbishop asked the new priests to become true servants of the Lord and of souls in the image of the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist.

Additionally, Brenes reminded them of the importance of having an abiding, close relationship with the Lord. “Let’s not let ourselves be filled with activities,” he counseled, noting that a priest must be filled with Jesus Christ so that his actions bear fruit. To that end, the cardinal stressed the importance of contemplation.

Given the intense persecution, on Dec. 31 Brenes himself — during a Mass he celebrated at Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral — read a message “of encouragement, of hope” in the face of the difficult situation the country is going through in terms of religious freedom.

“To the families and communities that at this moment feel the absence of their priests or are experiencing other types of hardship, I want to express my closeness,” the Nicaraguan cardinal said.

“Let us ask the good God for the grace of wisdom and for our words and actions to bear witness to that patience that achieves everything, and for the light of Jesus to help us all to find paths of concord and fraternity. With Mary, Our Mother, at the foot of the cross, may the Lord console us and show us his mercy,” the prelate said.

During the recitation of the Marian prayer of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Francis also expressed his solidarity with the bishops of the Central American country.

Furthermore, on Jan. 8, the pontiff reaffirmed his condemnation of what is happening in the country during a meeting with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.

“The situation in Nicaragua also remains worrying; it’s a crisis that has been going on for a long time with painful consequences for the entire Nicaraguan society, particularly for the Catholic Church,” the pope said, noting that “the Holy See does not cease to invite diplomatic dialogue that respects the good of Catholics and of the entire population.”

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The Ortega-Murilla dictatorship closed out 2023 with two bishops, 15 priests, and two seminarians in custody, according to data compiled by Nicaraguan lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina in her investigative report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?”

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