The attack by the Daniel Ortega regime against the Catholic Church has been frontal. The 28-parish Diocese of Matagalpa is now the epicenter of this unprecedented escalation of attacks against religious. At least of its eight parishes, circumscribed to the leadership of Bishop Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, kidnapped by the dictatorship for more than 15 days, have reported some type of police harassment or their priests have been intimidated in the last two weeks.
While Monsignor Rolando Álvarez has been house to jail with five priests, two seminarians and a layman in the Episcopal Curia of Matagalpa, since August 4, for an investigation supposedly by “organize violent groups” and “foster hate”the Police have been in charge of sowing terror in the rest of the parishes, located in the communities of the mountains of northern Nicaragua.
On August 15, the day of the solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the priest Salvador López of the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús parish, of the Las Calabazas community, in Ciudad Darío, celebrated mass while outside a patrol guarded the temple, he warned the church from your Facebook account.
At the end of the Eucharist, a policeman entered the temple to warn the religious that processions and vigils were prohibited, not to misinform the population, not to destabilize the country through their preaching because they did not want to return to 2018 – when the Rebellion occurred. of April that was crushed with fire by the regime – confirmed a source close to the Catholic Church who remained anonymous for fear of reprisals.
The priest, says the source, has carried out his “normal” mass as he always has. He is not the only parish priest threatened. On August 10, the priest Aníbal Manzanares denounced that the Police prohibited him from leaving his parish, in the municipality from Terrabona, Matagalpa.
“Notify you that the Police this morning -Wednesday August 10- have notified me that I do not have permission to go out, I cannot go out to the streets, to processions, to activities outside the parish temple, so I think they are watching me”, the father said.
Three priests under threat
Of the 28 parishes of the Diocese, the Cathedral of Matagalpa, the Santa María de Guadalupe church and the San Juan Bautista parish meet with their kidnapped pastors: Bishop Álvarez, responsible for the entire Diocese of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Estelí ; the priest Óscar Escoto and the father Ramiro Tijerino respectively.
The Jesús de la Divina Misericordia parish in Sébaco was desecrated by the Ortega Police on August 1 and its parish priest, Uriel Vallejos, besieged by dozens of riot police for almost three days, after they stormed the Catholic temple in a frustrated attempt to steal equipment. of communication of the Catholic radio of Sébaco -cancelled together with nine other stations of the Diocese-.
The policemen also besieged this Tuesday, August 16, the Santa Lucía Church in Ciudad Darío, in search of the priest Vicente Martínez. The Vicar Sebastian Lopez he celebrated the Eucharist in the atrium of the temple while the congregation was in the street under the siege of the uniformed men.
On Sunday, the regime prevented two priests: Father Fernando Calero Rodríguez, who administers the Nuestra Señora de Fátima parish in Rancho Grande, and Father Erick Díaz, pastor of the San José Obrero church in El Tuma, from traveling to Matagalpa to participate in the reception of the Virgin of Fatima.
That same day they kidnapped the priest Óscar Benavidez Dávila, who served in the Diocese of Siuna, but came from Matagalpa. The Prosecutor’s Office requested at least 90 days in prison to investigate him for a crime that is still unknown, but of which the State considers itself “victim and offended.”
“Kidnapping” does not impede the work of the Diocese
For a little over 15 days the Bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, has been kidnapped by the Ortega Police. The last time he took to the streets of Matagalpa was on August 4, when he knelt with the Blessed Sacrament in his hands and prayed before armed police officers for an end to the repression against parishioners, the Church and priests.
Since that date, three lay people from the group of twelve people, mostly religious, who were confined by the police cordon have left the Curia. The priests remain without access to food and medicine supplies, according to church sources confirmed to CONFIDENTIAL.
The main channel of communication with the bishop and his congregation has been through live broadcasts on Facebook. The prelate appreciates the expressions of solidarity, and asks the people to continue praying for them, just as the group prays for the parishioners and all of Nicaragua. “We are in the hands of God” he repeats in each homily.
His mandatory confinement has a more pastoral than administrative impact on his Diocese considers a priest who agreed to speak anonymously for security. They are limiting him to visiting parishes, performing sacraments such as communions, confirmations, which are normally scheduled at the request of the parish priests. He, too, has not been able to make his journeys through the communities, whose route is used by the faithful to request support from those that the prelate corresponds to.
“Knowing Monsignor Rolando, he likes to visit even the corners of the churches, the little districts to be close to his people.” “He is a bishop who pastorally gives himself to his parishioners,” said the priest.
Another source linked to one of the country’s dioceses explained that the religious activities in the Matagalpa cathedral and the rest of the churches are assumed by the parish priests. However, he admits that there are surely some delays in negotiations because the monsignor is in charge of two dioceses and has other positions such as the Youth Department of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN).
On August 8, from his confinement, Bishop Álvarez virtually inaugurated the participation of the Nicaraguan Church in the World Youth Day, which will take place in Lisbon, Portugal in 2023.
Another priest from the southern part of the country assured that despite the evident limitations of the current context, pastoral work is always carried out. The Church tries to respond to the faithful, but given the situation in the Curia of Matagalpa, some procedures that require the bishop’s signature may be behind schedule.
“Having the Curia as a prison and all the police cordoning off the place, all attention to the parishioners is suppressed. Still, they do not let anyone pass, “said the former priest.
“If we keep talking they are going to take us to El Chipote”
The priest from the south of the country assures that the entire Catholic Church lives the persecution of the Government, including the faithful.
“There is a persecution, there is a harassment and intimidation to put fear into the people that at this time is intensifying more. They don’t care if you see them -the policemen-, they stop you, they arrest you. They visit the religious leader who leaves the Church… There is permanent harassment for the Church, for the priests… They send us threats that if we keep talking they will take us to El Chipote, things like that. We feel that the repression, the harassment, the intimidation is increasing”, he admitted.
The repression, according to the priest, has spread to other areas beyond the Diocese of Matagalpa. They have had reports of their pastoral teams being harassed by the Police when leaving their prayer groups.
“There is a double damage, a double objective on the part of the regime, both to the pastorals, priests, bishops, because in the north they have imprisoned. It is not only to the hierarchy -of the Church- but the damage is going to frighten the Catholic people because they hurt the shepherd, the sheep are scattered”. “The damage is also being done to the Catholic people,” said the other priest.
“Catalina” is a member of a pastoral group of one of the parishes of the Diocese of Matagalpa. Fear is perceptible in her voice. As Catholics, she rejects the harassment against Monsignor Álvarez and prays that everything will be resolved soon, but “we cannot talk” she excuses herself.
Fear and mistrust have gained ground. “We don’t know who’s who here,” she says, referring to the congregation. Within the pastoral structures there are supporters of the Government, she warns.
He assures that there is so much fear that “we do not have enough courage” to go out and protest. The first thing the Police would do is “silence us, threaten us and take us to jail because the truth of things is that there is no longer freedom of expression here,” he says.
The Church source who confirmed the intimidation in the Las Calabazas community agrees with “Catalina”: “there is fear because as a human being everyone is afraid (…) but with strength the people come out,” he says.
Despite all the attacks, the priest from the south of the country assures that they are sustained by faith. “The more they persecute the Church, the more the Church is consolidated, her fidelity to the Lord,” he said.