In light of recent incidents were several parishes supporting mothers of political prisoners on hunger strikes were harassed and attacked by Sandinista supporters, the online news magazine nicaraguainvestiga did this report. Fr. Román and the mothers mentioned at the end of this article were evacuated from his church in Masaya on Nov 22nd, and were taken to the Vivian Pellas Hospital.
The Catholic Church, on Daniel Ortega´s enemies list
Published in Nicaraguainvestiga.com Nov 18, 2019
Looting, destruction, fires, death threats, physical aggression of priests and exile for others are some of the practices which have been directed against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua since the social conflict exploded in April 2018.
According to the “International Report on Religious Liberty”, published by the United States, the State of Nicaragua does not allow freedom of worship in the country. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes has stated that the role of the church has been being “on the side of the victims”.
Some Catholic churches functioned as refuges for opposition demonstrators, and the bells of some churches were rung as a sign of warning each time that a city was attacked, above all in the provinces and small towns like Jinotepe and Masaya.
Likewise, some parishes were collection and medical attention centers in the face of the refusal of hospitals to treat wounded demonstrators. This is the case of the Cathedral of Managua that on April 20 sheltered dozens of youth who were fleeing the state repression, and which remained under siege and threatened in the religious compound for more than 20 hours.
In May 2018 the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (ECN) were witnesses and mediators to the National Dialogue, and one week after starting the National Dialogue, the ECN denounced death threats and the discrediting of bishops and priests, above all against Mons. Silvio José Báez who usually spoke strongly against the government of Ortega.
The ECN stated in their press release that the attacks were “from the Government, orchestrated by anonymous official journalists and communications media on Facebook and Twitter”.
Like the bishops, some priests denounced having individually been the object of threats and aggressions, like the pastor of the Santiago the Apostle Church in Jinotepe, Juan de Dios García, who denounced that in May 2018 he was the victim of death threats on the part of Sandinista sympathizers after having provided refuge to young demonstrators.
Mobs Attacked the Bishops in Diriamba
One of the actions that most caused condemnation among Nicaraguans happened on July 9, 2018 in the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian in Diriamba, when Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes along with Mons. Silvio Báez, the Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag and other priests of the Archdiocese of Managua, were attacked by Sandinista mobs.
The religious arrived due to the fact that there was a group of 12 demonstrators in the church who sought refuge inside the Church after Sandinista paramilitaries were found in the city carrying out Operation Cleanup, which consisted in violently removing the roadblocks with firearms. The Catholic authorities showed up there to mediate the departure of the demonstrators, but the paramilitaries along with the FSLN mobs attacked the religious. From the time the priests got out of their vehicles they were insulted by Sandinista mobs who shouted at them “Murderers, coup supporters, pedophiles” and they in turn shouted “we want peace.”
Mons. Báez was wounded in his right arm by a knife. “Attacked by an angry mob that wanted to enter the San Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba, I was wounded, hit in the stomach, they took my episcopal insignia from me, and verbally attacked me. I am fine thanks to God. The Basilica and those who were there were freed”, wrote Bishop Báez in his Twitter account. Days before the event the ex-Sandinista guerrilla Edén Pastora publicly threatened Báez with death, saying on an official television channel that “bullets pass through cassocks.”
After the attack, Cardinal Brenes stated to the communications media, “We have never seen situations like this in Nicaragua. Our word has been proclaimed, we were content in the midst of weaknesses, insults.” That same day in Jinotepe the Santiago Apostle Church was looted by Sandinista mobs who beat the priest Elías Hernández, broke religious statues, threw some objects that are used to celebrate the Eucharist into the street, and some medical items that are used to treat the wounded were set on fire. The priest´s house was also destroyed by the mobs.
For her part, the Vice president Rosario Murillo stated in her midday speech that July 9th that the ECN had notified them of the visit that the bishops would make to Diriamba, and that they would be accompanied by the Nuncio. Likewise, Murillo justified the actions of her mobs and said, “we understand that those emotions and this suffering were expressed. We are sure that the Nuncio understands how they are expressed and precisely how we Christians give witness to how our feelings are expressed.”
According to the Canon Law expert Fr. Camilo Díaz, that action represented part “of the religious persecution whose objective is to silence the church” that has publicly denounced and condemned the repressive actions that the civilian population has suffered during the political crisis.
Armed attack against a parish
On July 13, 2018 the parish Divina Misericordia was attacked for more than 15 hours by officials of the National Police and paramilitaries, who had removed at bullet point the youth who were entrenched in the Autonomous National University of Nicaragua (UNAN) Managua, and decided to take refuge in the parish.
The spray of bullets can still be seen on the walls of the Church and the priest´s residence of the parish located in Villa Fontana, Managua. “It was a devastating attack, with high calibre weapons. Military type bullets that even caused large holes in the walls of the priests´ residence” said the pastor Raúl Zamora, who worked to get wounded youth out of the UNAN and take them to the church in his pickup truck so that they did not end up murdered.
In the early morning of July 14, after mediating with Daniel Ortega, Cardinal Brenes along with other bishops of the ECN were able to get the youth to leave the parish on two buses on route to the Cathedral of Managua. Two young people Gerald Vásquez and Francisco Flores were killed that night as a result of the armed attack.
Ongoing siege of parishes
In 2019, especially starting in April, Catholic Churches have been seen to be constantly under siege and attacked by Sandinista sympathizers every time that masses are celebrated in memory of the demonstrators who died because of the state repression.
The last case occurred on Sunday November 17 in Matagalpa, in a mass in memory of the ex political prisoner Eddy Montes, who died in the Jorge Navarro Penitentiary System known as “La Modelo”, after a guard shot him in the thorax.
During the mass in memory of Montes, Sandinista mobs threw stones and attacked the faithful and some demonstrators who showed up to shout slogans outside of the San Felipe de Molagüina church, which is why a large police presence also arrived to besiege the church.
Likewise this past June 15th, Sandinista mobs along with the National Police attacked and threw stones at the faithful who arrived at the mass in memory of the altar boy Sandor Dolmus in the Cathedral of León.
In the report of the US State Department on the state of religious liberty on the international level, it highlights that in Nicaragua religious leaders find themselves under “threats, intimidation and persecution”, and mentions that the Ortega government accused the Catholic Church of being “terrorist and mentally dangerous”.
On July 19, 2018 in a public speech Daniel Ortega accused the bishops of the ECN of being “committed to the coup supporters. They were part of the plan with the coup supporters” and called them “terrorists”.
“I know clearly who is behind the roadblocks, in other words, encouraging crimes that on principle, as Christians, as pastors they should be completely rejecting, any crime (…) It has nothing to do with Christians and they act with a terrorist, criminal mentality. They happily joined the terrorist and criminal coup”, declared Ortega in another speech in December of last year.
Recently Ortega said in another public speech about the bishops that “there are a few schizophrenic and whitened sepulchers who are part of the conspiracy (…) They want to crucify Nicaragua”.
Another aspect that the US report details is the political manipulation of religious festivals, like the celebration of San Jeronimo in Masaya in 2018, which the Catholic Church refused to celebrate out of respect for the grief of the families of the mortal victims of the repression.
“The clergy cancelled the traditional patron feasts to respect the grief of the families who lost their loved ones during the protests, and announced that in stead they would mark the occasion with a mass. The municipal government officials of the FSLN, along with the local police, ignored the decision of the clergy, and held a parade with a replica of the statue of the original patron saint. At a very loud volume they played a mixture of religious and party music outside of the church during the mass”, detailed the State Department report.
Bishop Abelardo Mata stated that “the government through the institution of the police and other similar groups has intensified the persecution of our faithful, terrorizing them by filming them, taking their pictures, verbal and physical attacks and besieging the churches in the midst of liturgical actions.”
For his part, Fr. Edwin Román, pastor of the San Miguel Arcángel Church of Masaya, said that “coming to the church to surround it and then arrest those who leave is unheard of. The faithful and we priests go to the parishs to celebrate mass, worship God, and the people come to pray for the dead, for those who were murdered. They are not bearing bombs, they do not bear weapons, they go to celebrate mass.”
Today Fr. Román remains detained in his own parish in Masaya along with a group of mothers of political prisoners who have declared themselves to be in a hunger strike to demand the liberation of their prisoners. The San Miguel Church, where the priest is located, remains under siege by the National Police who cordoned off the zone in at least a 2 block radius around it and are not allowing vehicular access.
They have also cut off the potable water and electric energy services. A group of activists approached the night of November 15th to try to leave water for the priest, but the officers prevented them from approaching and detained 13 people who were brought to trial this November 18th.
Meanwhile the priest and the mothers in the hunger strike, remain dehydrated, without electric energy, food, besieged and harassed by the National Police and Sandinista mobs who threaten to “enter at any moment” and make an attempt on the life of the priest and the rest of the people.