ACI Prensa Staff, Aug 5, 2022 / 15:11 pm (CNA).
Riot police from the Nicaraguan government blocked the bishop of Matagalpa, José Álvarez Lagos, from leaving the diocesan offices to celebrate Mass on Thursday, Aug. 4.
"I wanted to leave for the cathedral to do the holy hour, the holy Mass, but obviously the higher authorities haven't given permission, we are here ... shut up inside the diocesan offices," reported Álvarez, who is also the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Estelí.
A video posted Aug. 4 on social media shows the group of riot police, with batons and shields, blocking the way of the bishop and six other priests from leaving.
"Here we are going to remain without disrespecting the police; we have never disrespected them. I'm going to wait until they allow me to leave," added the prelate, who immediately afterward blessed the police officers by making the sign of the cross over them.
In addition, the local press reported that between Aug. 1 and Aug. 4 riot police prevented Father Uriel Vallejos and a group of faithful from leaving the rectory of Jesus of the Divine Mercy parish in the town of Sébaco.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights had reported on Aug. 3 that the conditions in the residence worsened after the electricity was cut off and food ran out.
The confinement of the priest and parishioners began after the police forced their way into his parish to shut down the Catholic radio station that operated on the premises. Vallejos is the radio station's director.
Five other Catholic radio stations were shut down Aug. 1 by order of the government for allegedly not having a valid operating license since 2003. However, the diocese reported that Alvarez said that in 2016 he personally presented the required documentation and never received a reply.
In response to the recent episodes of violence by the government of Daniel Ortega and his vice president and wife, Rosario Murillo, the clergy of Matagalpa issued a statement Aug. 4 urging "the country's authorities to respect freedom of speech and religion" and demanded that "the persecution of the Church cease."
"In turn, we invite the People of God to continue getting down on their knees for the Church, for our priests, and for our beloved Nicaragua," the message concluded.
The College of Consultants of the Diocese of Estelí also spoke out and charged that the course of events "hinders the exercise of the evangelizing mission of the brother clergy of the Diocese of Matagalpa."
"We call on the civil authorities of this country to cease the abuses that have been committed without just cause against the pilgrim Church in Nicaragua. We trust that sanity will prevail, and these manifestations coercing fundamental human rights will be avoided," the College of Consultants said in an Aug. 4 statement.
They also demanded that "the Political Constitution of the Republic be respected" and "that these acts of hatred and violence cease and that people be able to live and work in peace."
Ortega, who has been in power for 15 years, has been openly hostile to the Catholic Church in the country. He alleged the bishops were part of an attempted coup to drive him out of office in 2018 because they supported anti-government demonstrations that his regime brutally suppressed. The Nicarguan president has called the bishops "terrorists" and "devils in cassocks."
According to a report titled "Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018–2022)," compiled by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, in less than four years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the target of 190 attacks and desecrations, including a fire in the Managua Cathedral as well as police harassment and persecution of bishops and priests.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.