Amid continued unrest in Nicaragua, Church leaders traveled to the city of Masaya Thursday to pray and appeal for peace.

Protests began April 18 after Nicaraguan President Daniel 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 initially.

More than 200 in the country have been killed in the violence, according to estimates.

On June 19, government-linked paramilitary groups entered Masaya, clashing with protesters. Six people were killed and 35 wounded. Masaya is one of the cities in the west of the country which has shown resistance to the paramilitaries and pushed for Ortega to be removed from office.

With reports of government forces surrounding Masaya again on Thursday, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes, Bishop Silvio José Báez and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Stanislaw Waldemar Sommertag traveled to the city in hopes of mediating the situation there and calling for an end to the violence.

Bishop Báez, who was born in Masaya, led a procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets filled with hundreds of people, some crying and on their knees. When they arrived at San Sebastián church in the Monimbó neighborhood, he spoke to the crowds, voicing solidarity and grief.

The bishop called Masaya a “martyred” city and compared it to “Jesus crucified,” according to the Managua archdiocese’s Facebook page. He said that like Jesus, the city will rise again.

Bishop Báez said that as they were walking through the city streets, he heard cries for justice but reminded the people that justice is not vengeance.

“Here at the church of San Sebastián I want to remind [everyone] of one of the commandments of God: ‘Thou shalt not kill’.”

The bishop then appealed to “those who came to the city to kill… not one more death in Masaya.”

Archbishop Sommertag echoed the call for peace.

“We cannot respond to violence with…more violence, because remember that any death here is an outrage to God, that is why you have to become aware, it's a call to everyone to be responsible for your actions small or great.”

In a follow-up to the day's events, the Archdiocese of Managua posted on Facebook that Cardinal Brenes spoke for an hour with the police commissioner, who “committed to stop the attacks.”

The cardinal and the nuncio asked for the release of all those who had been arrested, presenting a list of detainees, and the police commissioner agreed to release them.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.