In light of increased persecution of the Catholic Church by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the head of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Committee on International Justice is again calling for the U.S. government and international community to address the situation.

Reports indicate that Ortega banned outdoor Holy Week celebrations and processions, including popular Good Friday and Easter processions due to alleged security concerns. Two women religious and a priest have also recently been expelled from the country.

The actions follow the incarceration of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who on Feb. 10 was sentenced to 26 years in prison by the government, stripped of his citizenship, and given a large fine on charges of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chair of the USCCB Committee on International Justice, said in addition to the ban on Holy Week activities, the Nicaraguan faithful have endured police harassment in churches throughout the Caribbean nation, and confiscation of property.

“Despite these extreme hardships, the Nicaraguan faithful, in union with their bishops and priests, have resiliently borne witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection, as they attended Easter celebrations in record numbers,” Malloy said in an April 20 statement. “I call on the United States Government and the entire international community to continue to work for the release of Bishop Álvarez, and for a restoration of peace and rule of law in Nicaragua.”

The two nuns the Ortega regime expelled were Costa Rican sisters Isabel and Cecilia Blanco, from the congregation Dominicas de la Anunciata. They managed a nursing home. It remains unclear why they were expelled. The Nicaraguan government hasn’t spoken on the matter.

The sisters were welcomed back to neighboring Costa Rica by family, and a local priest representing Bishop Manuel Eugenio Salazar Mora of Tilarán-Liberia, Costa Rica, according to a video message from diocesan spokesperson Deacon Gustavo Wattson that was posted to Facebook. In a separate video message, the sisters appeared to be in good spirits.

Wattson also said Salazar asks for prayers for Álvarez, and the whole of the Nicaraguan Church.

Father Donaciano Alarcón, a Panamanian Claretian missionary in Nicaragua, was reportedly the priest who was expelled during Holy Week. He reportedly went to Honduras, and was expelled for violating the decrees that prohibited public demonstrations during Holy Week.

Ortega’s latest crackdown against the Catholic faith follows years of intensified persecution, where he has arrested several priests, expelled missionaries, shut down Catholic radio stations and universities, and other processions and pilgrimages.

The heightened tension can be traced back to spring 2018, when Ortega accused church leaders of attempting to overthrow the government when they acted as mediators after deadly protests broke out that left more than 300 people dead.

Ortega, who has been in power since 2007, is known to jail and persecute challengers to his authority, and that extends beyond just Catholics. The day before Álvarez was sentenced 222 Nicaraguans arrived on U.S. soil after being exiled by the Nicaraguan government, many of whom were Ortega opponents.

A spokesperson previously told Crux that the U.S. State Department “condemns this action by the Government of Nicaragua and urges Bishop Alvarez’s immediate release.”

“We will continue to promote accountability for the Ortega-Murillo regime, reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Monsignor Álvarez, and urge the restoration of civic space for the people of Nicaragua,” the spokesperson said.

In the April 20 statement, Malloy asked that “our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States and Nicaragua, embrace her children during this difficult time, and illumine them with the light of the risen Christ.”