Since a social uprising began in Nicaragua in May of last year, the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, has called the local bishops coup organizers and even locked priests and the faithful in their parish churches.
This weekend, another priest was held for more than 12 hours of questioning by the authorities.
But far from being frightened, one bishop upped the ante this weekend, saying that the Catholic Church “has always seen the coffin of its persecutors pass by.”
“Do not forget that not everything remained in Calvary,” said Bishop Abelardo Mata of Esteli, referring to Christ’s crucifixion. “The morning of resurrection came.”
The bishop urged his priests to be close to those who suffer, “as the Old Testament says, close to the orphan, the widow and the foreigner.”
Mata condemned the persecution of the Catholic Church and its priests for being with the “suffering people,” and called out the regime for the violation of human rights that thousands of Nicaraguans have suffered.
Mata also praised the thousands of Nicaraguan youth who, on their graduation day, carried the blue and white national flag, currently banned by the government, in a sign of protest.
On Saturday, the police detained Father Ramon Alcides Pena Silva for 12 hours, after accusing him of “disturbing the peace” 31 times by celebrating Mass inside a Catholic church in the town of Segovia, which is in Mata’s diocese.
“Good morning,” the priest said on Sunday after being released. “I am on my way to my daily routine, or to breach the peace, now that that is what we call celebrating Mass in Catholic churches. Thank you for being concerned about me.”
In a statement released on Sunday, Mata denounced the “arbitrariness” of Pena’s detention, saying that it violated “fundamental human rights and due process” as stipulated by the constitution. The police officers that detained the priest had no warrant for his arrest.
“I protest that, since April 2018, the National Police has renounced its mission of protecting the people, who demand justice, peace, freedom and truth,” he wrote. “In these conditions, Father Alcides has reminded [the police] of their mission. This is not a crime. On the contrary, it is a call for them to reorient their actions in favor of the defenseless and oppressed.”
The “harassment and persecution” of a person who has consecrated himself to the service of Jesus is “unacceptable,” Mata wrote, since it is this commitment to Christ that makes it mandatory for them to speak up “against the abuses and violations of the fundamental rights of our people, in this case, religious freedom.”
Finally the bishop addressed the personnel of the security forces, urging them to think about their own wellbeing and that of their families, instead of allowing themselves to be “manipulated” by those who simply “use them as puppets to perpetuate themselves in power.”
On Sunday, thousands of people participated in the celebrations of La Purisima as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is known in in Nicaragua. According to information gathered by Crux, all over the country people left flags and bottles of water - currently signs of protest in the country - at the feet of the Virgin.
The water bottles gained their significance two weeks ago, when 13 people were arrested as they tried to bring water to a group of mothers of political prisoners who had been on a hunger strike after the police barred them from leaving the San Miguel Arcangel Church in Masaya.
Father Edwin Roman, the church’s pastor who had to be hospitalized after the week-long lockdown, said on Sunday that in Nicaragua, those who try to defend the country, call for democracy, freedom or justice are considered enemies.
“We are not the enemies [of the government]; we are a people who raise our voice,” he said.
The priest and the mothers who were held prisoners in the church were freed through the intercession of Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the papal ambassador to Nicaragua.
Bishop Silvio Baez - a former auxiliary of Managua who was ordered by Pope Francis to leave the country after threats to his life - was in Miami this weekend, participating in the feast of the Immaculate Conception with Nicaraguan exiles in the United States.
During his homily, Baez asked the government to “tone down the aggressive language,” while reminding Ortega and Murillo that “no one is eternal.”
“They should ask themselves what legacy do they want to leave behind, because we are all here in passing, and it is important to find a sense in life so at the end you’ll be able to say ‘it was a life worth living’,” the bishop said.
“No one is eternal, power also ends,” he reiterated, noting that only God exists forever and will live forever.
The bishop told the hundreds who were at St. Agatha Church in Miami’s “little Managua” that he hopes to return to Nicaragua soon. In the meantime, he will continue to denounce the persecution and harassment the Church is experiencing.
“The Church is not only a sheep among wolves, it is also a torch of light amidst the world,” Baez said. In the world today, he added, there are “no neutral forces that reject the truth,” which he said explains that “from the beginning of Christianity the Church is slandered, insulted, persecuted and some even taken to [their] death.”