An exiled bishop encouraged LA-area Nicaraguans to seek the Lord while “fighting for peace, liberty, and justice without ever losing hope or giving up” during a visit to St. Vincent de Paul Church in Exposition Park Epiphany weekend.
Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez of Managua and Father Edwing Román — both exiled after publicly criticizing the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo — came to LA days after authorities there arrested several priests.
Speaking to a packed house from the pulpit at a Mass Saturday afternoon, Báez in his homily encouraged the faithful to see today’s social and political strife in Nicaragua with eyes of faith by emulating the magi who remained united, trusted in God’s timing, kept their eyes fixed on the Star of Bethlehem and were not intimidated by a powerful person like King Herod.
“We Nicaraguans know well that in our history as a people we’ve lived through very dark periods in which terrible errors have been committed,” he told the hundreds gathered Jan. 6, many donning clothing and hats emblazoned with the Nicaraguan flag.
“But we should never forget that, despite these failures, it’s always possible to start over and keep walking. In our history, God has always put new shining stars in our path for us to follow.”
Báez has long criticized the Ortega government for its attacks on religious freedom, and has received numerous threats against his life. He has been in exile since 2019, when Pope Francis asked him to leave Nicaragua for his safety. Now in Miami, he regularly criticizes the country’s leadership in masses live streamed from the parish where he lives and ministers. Most recently, he has become the loudest voice calling for the release of his friend Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who last year was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison on treason charges.
The political situation in Nicaragua has continued to worsen this winter, with news outlets reporting that at least 14 priests and one bishop were arrested over the holidays, and the U.S. State Department naming Nicaragua once again to its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for engaging in or tolerating “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
Saturday’s Epiphany Mass was punctuated with references to the turmoil in Nicaragua, from prayers offered for those who’ve been kidnapped, killed, or arrested, to impromptu chants of “Viva Nicaragua!” and “Viva la Virgen Maria!” emanating from the crowd.
In closing his homily, Báez urged churchgoers to mirror the magi by not fearing the powerful and forging a new path in Christ — even if it changed their travel plans.
“We can also, after having adored Jesus in Bethlehem, start to travel down a different road, seeking the Lord in tenderness and simplicity,” he said. “Alongside the poor, in solidarity with victims. And always fighting for peace, liberty and justice without ever losing hope or giving up.”
After the Mass concluded, the congregation moved to the school auditorium for a reception complete with traditional Nicaraguan food and music. Excited attendees formed a receiving line to greet Román and Báez as they entered the hall, with both obliging requests for photos, autographs and personal blessings.
Many in Saturday’s crowd said the event offered them a way to show public support for family, friends, and countrymen living under much more restrictive circumstances thousands of miles away.
Vilma Rivera, who moved to the United States 37 years ago from Nicaragua, was among them.
Rivera said that on the one hand, she felt bad to see such a large crowd at Saturday’s event because it meant that scores of people were being forced to flee their beloved homeland.
On the other hand, she said she was proud to see so many people come together to support the nation’s imprisoned priests — something that one could be arrested for back home, she said.
Dressed in a T-shirt with the Nicaraguan flag on the front, Rivera also pointed out that many participants strategically wore jerseys, jackets and baseball caps emblazoned with the country’s name, flag and national colors because it’s something they have the freedom to do in the U.S. but could be punished for in Nicaragua.
“We are showing that we are united and that those who are imprisoned back home are not alone,” she said. “We are supporting them from here however we can.”
Fernando Garcia, also originally from Nicaragua, said he came to Saturday’s event because he was excited to hear Báez speak as a faith leader and to receive the holy Eucharist.
“To have someone here representing Nicaragua in a solemn Mass is very special,” he said.
The Epiphany celebration was organized by parishioners of Nicaraguan descent and members of the local Nicaraguan community, said St. Vincent Pastor Gary Mueller, C.M. It had been in the works for about six months, he said, but gained increased momentum as additional priests were arrested in Nicaragua in recent weeks.
The event was a natural fit for St. Vincent’s, said Mueller, as many immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America are drawn to the parish because of its welcoming ambiance, willingness to help immigrants get settled in a new country, and ornate Spanish architecture similar to that of Catholic churches found in those countries.
“People long for home, they long for a sense of familiarity,” he said. “One of the things that they can feel at home in is faith. When they walk into a church like St. Vincent’s and hear their own language and hear the expressions of faith that are particular to, say, Nicaragua, it’s a place where they can feel at home.”
Mueller said he’s happy to host events like the weekend’s Epiphany celebration for the Nicaraguan community because doing so helps unify Catholics from various countries.
“They call this the cathedral of the poor and immigrants,” he said. “And I think it functioned this way very well today.”