The ecclesial body representing the Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) joins in expressing solidarity with the Church in Nicaragua, as it faces growing harassment by the Sandinista regime.
By Lisa Zengarini
The Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) has expressed its solidarity and closeness to the Church of Nicaragua, as tensions with President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Government reached a new high this week when a bishop was prevented by the police from celebrating Mass.
The incident took place on August 4, the day feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests, when Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa, along with six priests and six lay Catholics, was not allowed to leave the diocesan offices to preside over the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the local cathedral.
The scene was captured in a video widely shared on social media, in which the bishop is seen kneeling down with his hands up and explaining that authorities had not given permission to go to the cathedral.
A second video shows Bishop Alvarez holding a monstrance with the Eucharist in the street and a policeman blocking him.
Five Catholic radio shut down this week
Bishop Alvarez coordinated a network of five Catholic radio stations that the Nicaraguan government shut down earlier this week, because of their allegedly critical views of the administration of President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who has indirectly attacked Bishop Alvarez as a ” manipulator of religious symbols”.
According to the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications y Correos (TELCOR), the media outlets, including Radio Hermanos in Matagalpa, lacked the necessary license, although the diocese of Matagalpa claims that the documentation required for the authorization was submitted to the competent authorities in 2016 by Bishop Alvarez himself.
The closure has been strongly condemned by the European Union, the United States, and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH).
Meanwhile, CELAM issued a statement on Friday to express its solidarity with the suffering Church and people of Nicaragua, saying it is “deeply saddened” by the latest events, including “the harassment of priests and bishops, the expulsion of religious orders, the profanation of churches and the closure of radios”.
Closeness of CELAM
“We accompany our brothers who in different ways seek to give voice to those who don’t have voice in order to build a dialogue for unity and peace,” the statement reads.
Latin America and the Caribbean bishops, therefore, call on all the faithful “to join in prayer for the Nicaraguan people, its leaders, authorities and the Church”, because, they say, “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12, 26).
Strained relations between Church and Government
Relations between the Sandinista Government and the local Church have been tense since 2018, when Nicaraguan authorities clamped down on protests against a series of controversial reforms to the social security system.
Despite attempts to mediate in the crisis, bishops were ultimately banned from the dialogue and relations further worsened after the controversial 2021 elections which confirmed President Ortega, amid allegations of fraud and the political persecution of a rival presidential candidate.
Since the outbreak of the crisis, the Church has been the target of nearly 200 attacks and desecrations, as well as harassment and intimidation of bishops and priests. In 2019, Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez was forced to leave the Diocese of Managua at Pope Francis’s request after receiving several death threats.
Expulsion of Missionaries of Charity and Nuncio
Early in July, the Government expelled the Missionaries of Charity (MC), after closing down a charity run by the nuns, alongside other 100 NGOs, including a number of Catholic organizations, on the grounds that they failed to comply with legal obligations.
In March this year, Managua declared the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, “persona non grataand expelled him.
The Holy See expressed surprise and regret at the notification, saying the measure is “incomprehensible because in the course of his mission Archbishop Sommertag worked with profound dedication for the good of the Church and the Nicaraguan people always seeking to foster good relations between the Apostolic See and the authorities of Nicaragua.”