More exiled and banished priests: Ortega’s religious persecution does not stop in Nicaragua | International

Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez, one of the religious persecuted by the Daniel Ortega regime.
Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez, one of the religious persecuted by the Daniel Ortega regime.Jorge Torres (EFE)

Monsignor Rodrigo Urbina arrived on time at the Miami airport on Friday, January 27, to board the plane that would take him back to Nicaragua, where he is the parish priest of the San Juan Bautista church, a temple located in the indigenous neighborhood of Sutiaba in the city of Lion. Everything was going well until the airline employees notified him that the authorities of his country, that is, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, had not allowed him to enter. He was unable to board and from that moment the religious man was exiled, prey to a repressive measure that other priests have already experienced in recent months, amid the religious persecution that the presidential couple maintains against the Catholic Church.

The banishment of Monsignor Urbina has been confirmed by ecclesial sources, including the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Managua, Monsignor Carlos Avilés, one of the few pastoral voices that still answers journalists’ queries in an atmosphere of terror for Catholic religious. . The parish priests have suffered systematic police and judicial harassment for criticizing human rights violations by the ruling party since April 2018, when police and paramilitaries committed a massacre of more than 350 people, the most fatal outcome of a highly varied and fierce repression.

Fear is hardly tempered in churches and even in seminaries. On January 29, during Sunday mass, Cardinal Leopoldo Brens said in the pulpit that “a group” of foreign neocatechumens recently ordained priests asked to return to their countries of origin. “The cardinal does not have to say the reasons, but evidently these newly ordained brothers do not want to serve under these circumstances,” said a Catholic source who requested anonymity.

Monsignor Rodrigo Urbina.
Monsignor Rodrigo Urbina.

Neither the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference (CEN) nor the Vatican have said how many priests – like Monsignor Urbina, who has not responded to queries from EL PAÍS either – have been exiled. Much less the number of parish priests who have gone into exile to escape religious persecution. According to a count made by EL PAÍS on the cases publicly denounced, to date five priests have been exiled. While 10 religious (a bishop, eight priests and a seminarian) have fled Nicaragua. However, human rights defenders and even the head of the Diocese of Danlí in Honduras, Monsignor José Canales, believe that the number of Catholic priests and religious is greater.

Last September, Canales told the newspaper The Press —whose newsroom was confiscated by the Ortega-Murillo family— that has had electronic exchanges “with priests at risk.” “They have told me about other compañeros and the calculation I make is that some 50 priests are thinking of leaving Nicaragua because they can no longer bear the harassment,” he said. The majority, continued the Bishop of Danlí, plan to seek refuge in Costa Rica and Honduras.

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In San José, the Costa Rican capital, lawyer Gonzalo Carrión told EL PAÍS that his organization, the Nicaragua Nunca Más Human Rights Collective, accompanies two exiled priests whose names are being withheld. “I can’t tell you about a number, but there are many cases that are not reported out of fear,” says Carrión, also persecuted and exiled.

“We see a forced displacement of priests and people related to the Catholic Church. It is the continuation of the crimes against humanity in Nicaragua. This has given rise to the state of terror that is being lived, perpetrated by a totalitarian regime that in 2022 imprisoned priests and deprived a bishop of his freedom,” added Carrión. “Last year Nicaragua experienced a forced displacement never seen before; thousands and thousands of citizens from all the territories who have gone to the United States and Costa Rica, among them people who declare themselves exiled. Priests have not escaped this tragedy.

A bishop on trial

The best-known case of forced exile is that of Bishop Silvio Baéz, who has settled in Miami since April 2019. But now others are being added, such as that of Father Uriel Vallejos, who requested refuge in Costa Rica after fleeing from the hunt. that the police initiated against the diocese of Matagalpa and its churches in August 2022. In this context of persecution, Bishop Rolando Álvarez was captured, the highest-ranking member of the Catholic Church who has so far been subjected to a political trial for committing the alleged crimes of “undermining national integrity” and “propagation of false news”, while the regime issued an arrest warrant against Vallejos to Interpol.

Álvarez is one of the leading voices of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, and a moral scourge against the Sandinista regime. The prelate is kept at home by prison and the Ortega-Murillos offer him exile in exchange for his freedom. However, the bishop has flatly refused to leave his homeland, which is why the trial has been lengthened and continues in limbo. Weeks ago, the president of the CEN, Bishop Carlos Herrera, revealed that the Holy See began “conversations” with the Sandinista regime to address the situation of the bishop of Matagalpa, but for the moment no further details have been released. However, Managua’s relations with the Vatican have been “at an impasse” since the nuncio Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw was expelled from Nicaragua in March 2022.

On January 26, the Sandinista court found four priests, two seminarians, and a layman “guilty” who were arrested along with Bishop Álvarez. The Prosecutor’s Office requests a sentence of 10 years in prison for the crime of “conspiracy”. Meanwhile, the harassment in the parishes continues. Lawyer Marta Patricia Molina has documented at least 396 attacks against Catholicism by the regime since 2018, of which 140 have occurred in 2022.

The registered attacks include offenses, desecration of temples, insults and death threats, armed attacks, imprisonment, prohibition of worship and religious activities, in addition to exile. “Forcing anyone into exile is a serious violation of human rights. The Political Constitution of Nicaragua guarantees the entry and exit of nationals freely. I am making the third installment of ‘Nicaragua: a persecuted church?’, and it is evident that this year will be more disastrous than the previous one. The dictatorship does not give any truce to the religious,” Molina told EL PAÍS.

The lawyer warns that the harassment continues and has spread against the laity and those who belong to parish groups living in the interior of the country. “The police have stopped them momentarily to ask them about the activities that they, as lay people, carry out,” denounces Molina.

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