Nicaraguan bishop to go to Rome amid security concerns

Pope Francis greets Bishop Silvio Jose Baez Ortega Auxiliary Bishop of Managua at the Vatican during the Nicaraguan bishops ad limina Sept 16 2017 Credit LOsservatore Romano Pope Francis greets Bishop Silvio Jose Baez Ortega, Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, at the Vatican during the Nicaraguan bishops' ad limina, Sept. 16, 2017. | L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis has asked Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez Ortega of Managua to serve the Church in Rome for a temporary period. Báez has faced security concerns as a vocal critic of the administration of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.

Báez said in a press conference April 10 that he did not ask to leave Nicaragua, but that he will be obedient to the pope's request.

"I have not asked to leave Nicaragua. The Holy Father called me," he said. "I want to make it clear that my heart has always been here in my land, in my homeland and in the midst of my people. My pastor's heart will remain here in Nicaragua," he told media.

The bishop said that he will carry Nicaragua in his heart, but that "this decision of the Holy Father, that I accepted and assumed, has made my heart cry."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="es" dir="ltr">Esta noche visité la parroquia Santísimo Redentor de Managua para dar una charla sobre la Pascua. Al final un niño de la parroquia me agradeció en nombre de todos por mi ministerio episcopal en Nicaragua. ¡Fue muy emotivo! Gracias. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Silvio José Báez (@silviojbaez) <a href="">April 11, 2019</a></blockquote>
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Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua said the pope's request was made during a private audience with Báez at the Vatican several weeks ago.

Brenes explained that Báez will remain an auxiliary bishop of Managua during the undetermined period he is away from the diocese, and that he will go to Rome during the Easter season, after the busy schedule of Holy Week has concluded.

Báez, who has been the subject of threats because of his outspoken opposition to the Ortega administration during the crisis facing the country, said threats have not "paralyzed my ministry" or stopped him from sharing the Gospel and giving "constructive criticism."

The Managua auxiliary was among a group of bishops who were assaulted by a pro-government group in 2018 when they went to free a group of protesters who had taken refuge in a basilica the previous day.

As they tried to enter San Sebastian basilica in Diriamba, about 25 miles south of Managua, their route was blocked, and the pro-government groups called them murderers and liars. Báez suffered a cut on his arm, and he was hit in the stomach and robbed of his episcopal insignia.

Anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April 2018. They resulted in more than 300 deaths, and the country's bishops mediated on-again, off-again peace talks until they broke down in June.

A new round of dialogue began Feb. 27 at the INCAE Business School in Managua.

Báez, 60, has been auxiliary bishop of Managua for 10 years, and has worked Cardinal Brenes closely throughout this time.

Brenes said that in his meeting with Pope Francis last month, the auxiliary bishop shared about his ministry as a bishop and "part of our social work that he and the bishops' conference have developed with the suffering people of our country."

Pope Francis listened closely and then expressed his concerns to Báez, the cardinal related. "The Holy Father has asked him to go to Rome for a while, he has not told him [for what length of time time], but it would not be a permanent matter."

Nicaragua's crisis began last year after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

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Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church had suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held this year, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

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