“We are witnessing an attempt to silence the Church in Nicaragua.”
International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) wishes to express its solidarity, friendship and communion in the face of the sad and painful situation suffered by the clergy and the whole Church in Nicaragua.
The international pontifical charity recalls the message relayed in the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua’s statement released earlier this month (on August 7), which quoted the words of Scripture: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26) and invites people to pray for peace and stand in solidarity with the Christians of the country.
Pope Francis also expressed his concern and pain at the difficult situation Nicaragua is experiencing, when he spoke after the Angelus prayer on Sunday 21 August.
“Nicaragua continues to be convulsed by the crisis that began more than four years ago. The situation in this Central American country is critical, with great polarisation and confrontation. We believe that prayer is more important than ever at this time,” commented Regina Lynch, director of projects at ACN International.
Six priests and a bishop under arrest
Following a sharp increase in government hostility over the past few months, the national police forced their way into the offices of the Diocese of Matagalpa on August 19 at 3 a.m. and detained Bishop Rolando Álvarez and others present with him in the chancery at the time. His arrest represents an increase in the political pressure against him which began on August 4 with the blocking of all access to the curia for those deemed to be political agents. According to the official statement published later by the police, the operation was conducted “in accordance with constitutional duties in regard to the security, good order, and peace of Nicaraguan families.”
“These events represent a further escalation in a spiral of confrontation,” said Regina Lynch. “We are witnessing an attempt to silence the Church in Nicaragua and there is no easy solution. We need to support them as much as possible. We must pray that there may be a peaceful solution and not a further increase in hostilities,” she added.
Bishop Álvarez, who, in addition to being the bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa, is also apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Estelí, is currently living under house arrest in his own family home close to Managua, with a constant police guard. Three other priests, a deacon, two seminarians and a photographer were also arrested with him and are currently being held in the notorious El Chipote prison in Managua, where political prisoners are regularly held.
At the present time, there are a total of six priests imprisoned in the country, in addition to the three already mentioned—two priests from Granada and one missionary priest from Siuna. The latter has been detained since August 14, without any known charges to date.
190 attacks and acts of profanation in the last four years
Bishop Álvarez has been one of the voices denouncing the social crisis his country has been experiencing in recent years. In less than four years, the Catholic Church has suffered more than 190 attacks and acts of profanation, as outlined in the most recent report by Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro entitled Nicaragua: Persecuted Church? (2018-2022).
In addition to the direct acts of repression against individual members of the clergy—including the expulsion of the apostolic nuncio in March this year—there is also the prohibition of processions in the streets, the interruption of religious celebrations, the intimidation of the faithful by police deployments around churches and the threat to transport owners of the loss of their vehicle if they collaborate in the transport of the faithful for religious activities.
In addition, the government has shut down hundreds of NGOs, including several religious ones. The most notable and widely criticized by outside observers was the expulsion of the longstanding Missionaries of Charity, established by Mother Teresa, which served the poor and vulnerable, and the shutting down of the bishops’ conference’s television channel and many other Catholic radio stations.
Nicaragua in need of prayer and hope
During his last visit to the international headquarters of ACN in 2019, Bishop Alvarez, who is responsible for the areas of communication and the laity and is at the same time president of the youth department of the bishops’ conference, said: “I very much like the name of the charity—Aid to the Church in Need—because the Church is in need. She is in need of prayer and of hope in order to be able to continue her prophetic role. The Church needs to continue being a people, opening her doors to everyone, without distinction.”
The bishop further appealed: “We are all like the poor widow, both those who have much in economic terms and those who have very little. The secret, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, is ‘to give until it hurts.’ And so I say to the benefactors of ACN, please continue, without fear, as you have been doing, giving until it hurts, giving from what you need to live on, because in this way you are giving life to others.”