United to Pope Francis, who expressed his sadness and concern on 12 February, following the Angelus prayer, the ACN foundation asks all its friends and benefactors to bear in mind the terrible situation of Rolando Álvarez, bishop of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the diocese of Estelí, and requests prayers for him and for all those who are suffering in Nicaragua.
According to information from local news sources, the Government has now taken to arresting and reprimanding priests who mention bishop Rolando Álvarez in their sermons, which they describe as “forbidden activity”. At least two priests were arrested in Madriz and in Nueva Segovia for mentioning or praying for the bishop during Sunday masses.
For this reason, and considering the regime’s intention of silencing the prayers of the people of Nicaragua, ACN is calling on benefactors the world over to pray even more fervently for the Nicaraguan Church, that it may not feel abandoned in these challenging times and may continue to proclaim the Gospel and accompany its faithful, especially the poorest and the most frail.
Convicted for treason
Bishop Rolando Álvarez was publicly sentenced one day after refusing to abandon the country and being deported to the United States with a group of over 200 political prisoners, including several priests and seminarians who had been charged with “conspiracy”. Among those who were expelled were fathers Óscar Benavides, Ramiro Tijerino, Sadiel Eugarrios, José Díaz y Benito Martínez, as well as deacon Raúl Veja. Seminarians Melkin Centeno and Darvin Leyva, were also exiled, as was the media team of the diocese of Matagalpa, Manuel Obando and Wilberto Astola. They had all been in jail for undermining “the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of the people”, and for inciting “violence, terrorism and economic destabilisation”.
The bishop of Matagalpa, who was under house arrest since the early hours of 19 August of 2022 was initially on the list of people to be exiled, but refused. In reaction to the refusal, his sentencing, which had been scheduled for 15 February, was brought forward, and a judge dictated a sentence of 26 years in jail, which if carried out will see bishop Álvarez in prison until 2049. The judge pronounced the bishop a “traitor to the motherland” and found him guilty of “conspiracy against national integrity and spreading fake news through information and communication technology, to the detriment of the State and Nicaraguan society”.
Efforts to silence the Church
ACN had already called attention to the situation of Catholics in Nicaragua in August 2022. At the time Regina Lynch, head of projects at ACN International, denounced an “attempt to silence the Church in Nicaragua”.
“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”, said Regina Lynch.
The pontifical foundation is concerned over regular news about priests who are forbidden from returning to the country, visa restrictions for religious men and women, surveillance and control over the movement of priests and bishops, recording of sermons and the prohibition of processions and religious celebrations.
With the political and social situation deteriorating fast, the Church’s commitment to its role as peace-broker and encouraging reconciliation in the country has led to many faithful and priests becoming the victims of repression, false charges and unjust arrests and prison sentences.
Hundreds of attacks against the Church
In November 2022 a new and updated edition of the “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?” report was published. Written, by lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina, the document recorded details of 396 attacks on the Catholic Church in the Central American country between April 2018 and October 2022.
The almost four hundred documented episodes of persecution include desecrations, theft, threats and hate speech. During this period several bishops, priests, religious and laypeople were targeted for reprisals by the authorities.
The drastic measures taken by the Government against bishop Álvarez represent yet another escalation in a spiral of conflict against the Church and its members, and follows episodes such as the expulsion of Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, in March 2022, and the forced exile of the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation founded by Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta, as well as other religious and priests. The Government also closed down the Bishops’ Conference television station and other Catholic radio broadcasters, as well as nationalising the Catholic University that belonged to the diocese of Estelí.