Nicaraguan Catholics gather for mass after gov’t bans procession

The Vatican has expressed concern over moves against the Church amid an ongoing crackdown by President Daniel Ortega.

Nicaraguan Catholics have gathered in the capital Managua under heavy police presence after the government banned religious processions.

Saturday’s mass protests against the church have sparked a series of moves against the church in recent weeks, including the investigation and jailing of a prominent cleric critical of President Daniel Ortega’s government. A day before the gathering, the Vatican for the first time expressed concern over the recent crackdown in the Latin American country.

Church leaders urged followers to attend after they said the national police had banned a planned procession from the city, citing “internal security”.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said those present came together “with great joy, but also with great sadness” because of the “situation in which we live in our parish”.

“Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do,” said Brains.

In early August, Ortega’s government shut down seven church-owned radio stations and announced an investigation into Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who had been detained by police for nearly two weeks in a church compound in Matagalpa along with several other priests.

Catholics flocked to the service in Managua after national police refused permission for a planned religious procession, citing ‘internal security’. [AP Photo]

The government has accused Alvarez, an outspoken critic, of promoting hatred and inciting violence. Before Alvarez was taken into custody, police detained a priest in Cebaco, part of the Matagalpa diocese, for several days before finally allowing him to leave.

On Friday, the Vatican’s permanent observer of the Organization of American States (OAS), Monsignor Juan Antonio Cruz, expressed concern during a special session of the organization’s Permanent Council and called for “finding ways of understanding based on mutual respect and trust. All for the common good and for peace.”

During the OAS meeting, 27 countries passed a resolution condemning the “forced closure of non-governmental organizations and the persecution and arbitrary restrictions imposed on religious institutions” in Nicaragua.

Rights observers say Ortega has continued to crack down on freedom of expression and speech since mass anti-government protests began in April 2018. At least 328 people were killed by security forces and hundreds were detained, some allegedly tortured.

Police officers and riot police block the main entrance to the Catholic Church compound in Matagalpa where Bishop Rolando Alvarez is being held by police. [AFP]

Ortega said the movement was an attempted coup with foreign support and the support of the Catholic Church.

Since September 2018, police have not allowed large public gatherings in the country, except for those sponsored by the government or the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party.

Ahead of the October 2021 presidential election, Ortega’s government arrested dozens of opposition figures who were likely to challenge him in the race. Ortega, a former Sandinista rebel leader, won a fourth term in the election, which was ruled invalid by foreign observers.

On Friday, Nicaragua shut down Radio Dario, one of the last radio stations on Ortega, its director Anibal Toruno said on his Twitter account.

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