More than 150 political leaders in Nicaragua are currently in prison, at the direct order of President Daniel Ortega.
The ongoing effort to silence dissenting voices in the country has directly targeted the Nicaraguan Catholic Church repeatedly. In less than four years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has gone through more than 190 attacks and desecrations, including a fire in the Managua Cathedral, the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity, and the highly irregular house arrest of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, accused of “crimes against spirituality.”
Last Saturday, Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes blessed nine images of Our Lady of Fatima that were supposed to go to each diocese in the country. A pilgrim replica of the original image has been visiting parishes in the country for the past year and a half, as part of an ongoing Marian Congress.
On Sunday, Ortega’s government banned a priest from the diocese of Matagalpa from receiving the image, explaining that the planned procession of the image was banned for “internal safety reasons.”
Father Erick Diaz, who was arriving to the cathedral to receive the image, was informed by the local police that he was banned from doing so. The hundreds of faithful who were going to the cathedral to venerate the image were also sent back to their homes. This has been seen as another direct attack against the Nicaraguan church in general and Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who presides over the diocese of Matagalpa, in particular.
Bishop Álvarez of Matagalpa has been under house arrest with six more priests and laity for more than 10 days, banned from leaving the diocesan headquarters after he voiced criticism over the government’s closing of five Catholic radio stations earlier last week. Police and pro-government militia are guarding the place, preventing people from giving them food, water or medicine, according to Crux.
More arbitrary detentions
Also on Sunday, the Diocese of Siuna denounced the arrest of Fr. Óscar Benavidez after celebrating Mass.
Church authorities explained they do not know the reasons behind this detention and invited the faithful to join in prayer for Benavidez, who is the pastor of a parish located on the north Caribbean shore of the country.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) stated that the priest was arbitrarily detained, forced to leave his vehicle and transferred in a police patrol to a then unknown destination. On Monday it was learned that the priest was taken to the Directorate of Judicial Assistance, known as “El Chipote.” The facility is known to be a psychological torture center located in Managua, capital of Nicaragua, according to Infobae.
Benavidez is the third priest detained in Nicaragua so far this year, and the ninth under police custody.