From nearly 300 kilometers away, a group of Catholic parishioners celebrated the birthday of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, Bishop of the Dioceses of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Alvarez has been under “house arrest” for more than one hundred days as one more political prisoner of the Ortega regime. The protagonists of the tribute were the Bishop of the Diocese of Danli, Honduras, Monsignor Jose Antonio Canales, and dozens of parishioners who participated in a vigil, in which they also denounced the persecution of Daniel Ortega’s regime against the Catholic Church.
“Monsignor Rolando Alvarez was a thorn in the side (of the regime) precisely because he was so loved by his people,” affirmed the Honduran bishop in an interview with the program Esta Noche. For this reason, he said, he is not surprised that they are trying to link him and other priests to false crimes. “In Nicaragua they can fabricate any crime against you because there is control of all branches of government by the Executive,” he said.
The Ortega regime currently holds six priests, two seminarians and a layman imprisoned in the infamous El Chipote jail, while Monsignor Alvarez, has been under house arrest for more than a hundred days, while being investigated for allegedly trying to “organize violent groups,” presumably “with the purpose of destabilizing the State of Nicaragua and attacking the constitutional authorities.”
“None of them is a terrorist,” stated Monsignor Canales who added that “their only crime has been to criticize the repression and preach the Gospel.”
A plan against the Church and the people
Monsignor Canales has been a critical voice against the persecution and imprisonment of the Nicaraguan people by the Ortega regime, noting that since 2018 the escalation of repression against people who denounce human rights violations in the country has been evident.
“What was missing was to repress an institution that is so important in the life of Nicaraguans, such as the Catholic Church. Then, these round-ups ups began to take place, the persecution of parish priests and bishops by police patrols. It is a masterplan to destabilize, alarm and unnerve anyone,” he complained.
Bishop Alvarez has served more than three months under house arrest, guarded by the police, and without being officially charge of any crime. You know the bishop of Matagalpa; do you think that he could be charged?
In Nicaragua you can be accused of anything. That is what we can see here, from outside, and what you also see there, inside: how crimes are fabricated. Because, obviously, there is control of all branches of government by the Executive, which by the way is illegal, starting with the “elections” held last year, which were totally lacking in legality and legitimacy.
In all Constitutions around the world, branches of government are independent, but in Nicaragua the Executive gives orders to the Legislative and Judicial Branches. Therefore, if they order to impute someone with a crime, crimes are fabricated. It is ridiculous that, for example, they say that because you are expressing your ideas you are threatening the security of the State. That has no legal ground anywhere in the world (…) so I believe that that is the “crime” for which not only Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, but thousands of Nicaraguans are being incarcerated or are under surveillance.
Precisely, besides Monsignor Alvarez there are ten other priests in prison, most of them accused of conspiracy and dissemination of fake news, for criticizing the repression and preaching the Gospel. What do you think about these accusations? Do they have weight to accuse priests?
All of them are innocent. None of these people has committed a terrorist act. All of them are imprisoned for expressing their ideas. That is why we call them prisoners of conscience, because to none of them can an act of violence be attributed.
How do you assess the pastoral duties of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez in regards to the accusations or crimes fabricated that could be occurring against him?
His absence is really hurting. He is a very beloved bishop, and it is so because he is a bishop that connects with the people, who arrives in a town and goes to the kitchen to talk with the ladies who are by the oven cooking food. He is a very warm bishop. For the Nicaraguan regime, he was a thorn in the side, because he is so loved by the people. He is a bishop who, with his cassock, goes anywhere, no matter if he has to go by car or on the back of a mule. He is a very loved and popular figure, who expressed his disagreement with the persecutions that at that moment he saw happening around him. That is why it was “unbearable” for the regime that he was free and that is why Monsignor Rolando Alvarez is where he is.
The government also expelled the Missionary of Charity sisters from the country, and has closed many other of the Church NGOs devoted to charity, education and social assistance. Who is affected by this type of measures in a country like ours?
It affects the poor, the poorest, because I do not doubt that perhaps some NGOs need to have a review, not only in Nicaragua but in any country in the world, because unexpectedly there could be some anomalies. That is normal, that there should be a periodical review always within the framework of respect and legality.
So, it is embarrassing and very sad that in a country like Nicaragua, as well as Honduras, because we are very much alike in terms of the lack of funds to care for the poor, in a crude manner the sisters of the order founded by Mother Theresa of Calcutta were expelled. The crime they had committed was to care for the elderly, to care for children. But I also understand it is a way that this type of dictatorial and authoritarian government has, who want to have a population that depends exclusively on them.
Nicaraguans have lost a lot with this type of attitude (of the regime) because these were people who had come to serve the Nicaraguans (…) because they were not civil servants, but people who were doing their job, not motivated by a salary, but motivated by love for their fellow man.
The government has also prohibited religious processions in the country and had parishioners go back to the parishes. Why do dictatorships prohibit acts of faith?
Because when a group gathers, not motivated in support to them, but by other motivations and in this case by religious motivations, in the purest sense of the social doctrine of the Church that invite us to not remain in the purely religious plane, but also to see the world surrounding us (…) then there is the fear. Because afterwards there will be a mass and according to the Gospel the priest or the bishop will preach and, in his preaching, it is normal that comparative situations of lack of freedom, lack of respect for the neighbor, lack of respect for the life of others will appear. So, therein lies the fear, particularly in Catholicism.
In Nicaragua a climate of silence persists on the part of the Church hierarchy considering the worsening of the persecution against priest and Bishop Rolando Alvarez himself. What do you think about this silence? What should the Church do?
I always say in these cases that one thing is to be watching the fire, and another thing is to be inside the house that is on fire. So, I am outside the fire. My bishop brothers in Nicaragua are inside the house that is on fire. So, I respect a lot the way Nicaraguan bishops are acting because I think that they are doing what they should do in the context of their own experience there. Therefore, in that sense, I fully trust that the bishops in Nicaragua are acting in accordance with what they believe at this moment is what they should be doing.
What is the Vatican’s silence attributed to, in situations of persecution such as these?
Well, the Holy See has a close relationship with its own apostolic nuncio in each country and with the Episcopal Conference. Unfortunately, it is an unprecedented event in modern history that the apostolic nuncio was expelled from Nicaragua. This has created, well, a rupture in the normal relations and I have no doubt that this is a reason the Holy See does not have impartial information, more reliable, to issue any opinion.
So, I repeat, it is an unprecedented event. So unprecedented that the Nicaraguan government itself has never issued a communique explaining why the Apostolic Nuncio was invited to leave the country, to say it diplomatically, and this type of repressive crusade against the Church can silence the prophetic voice of the Church.
Concerning its priests, I think that the Church is doing what it can in Nicaragua. And evidence of that is that the parishes and Dioceses are continuing in the midst of such difficult situations. Hence, let us trust that the Nicaraguan Church is far from being weakened, and destroyed and disappearing, because that is something that one senses when one sees this type of reprisals against the Church. It will emerge stronger.
The Catholic Church has 20 centuries of existence and in those 20 centuries there were many people who wanted to eliminate it, as these two masters who illegitimately rule Nicaragua want to do now. However, history tells us how all those people who wanted to eliminate the Church ended, well, they are gone.
Dozens of priests have had to go into exile because of political persecution in Nicaragua. They are priests who leave along paths and unprotected areas of the border. Have you become aware in Danli about this situation?
I know of priests who have gone to Costa Rica more than to Honduras, but yes, they have written to me. I have talked to them about different ways that now we can do it. About what you say, most of them have had to leave through unprotected areas, because through legal border points it is difficult for them to leave. It is also something unprecedented that the government of a country prevents its own nationals from entering into their own country.
I also have news of priests who at some point had to leave the country for some business they had to resolve, and despite being Nicaraguans, they have not been able to return. Perhaps because at some point they said something with the freedom of expression that every human being has.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times