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By Majella Furlong

Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez will have been imprisoned in total isolation in La Modelo Tipitapa prison continuously for 16 months at the beginning of December 2023.  The bishop was sentenced to 26 years in prison after a trial in absentia for “treason”.  Bishop Álvarez has resisted banishment from his homeland at the behest of the Ortega dictatorship on two occasions.  The bishop’s health has deteriorated but his morale remains strong.  Bishop Álvarez, aged 56 years, has expressed confidence in the prayers of all in the face of this difficult situation :

“Aware that prayer is the Christian's strength, the invitation is to continue to implore Christ to intercede and watch over this small flock of His.”  Bishop Álvarez has emerged as the most solid symbol of resistance faced by the Ortega-Murillo regime.  He was nominated for the Sakharov Prize 2023 by European parliamentarians.  The Sakharov Prize is the European Union’s highest tribute to people who have made an outstanding contribution to the protection of freedom of conscience.  Álvarez spoke out against human rights violations, and repression committed by the Nicaraguan government in his homilies since 2018.  There are five other Catholic priests in prison in Nicaragua.  Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega derided the prisoners as "criminal mercenaries" working for foreign powers to undermine the sovereignty of the country.  “I am following closely, with concern and sorrow, the situation in Nicaragua, which involves both people and institutions,” Pope Francis said.

                         There were protests in Nicaragua on August 4, the day that marked the first year of Álvarez’s imprisonment. The movement Acción Dale Vida Nicaragua launched a day of prayer and a campaign, called “Eucharist for Monsignor Rolando Álvarez”, with the goal that Bishop Álvarez be allowed to “receive Communion and celebrate the Eucharist, since this August 4 marks one year since he has been unable to perform these sacred acts”.

                               The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in July 2023 asking the international community to pressurize Nicaragua to release Álvarez.  The Cuban bishops, along with the Panamanian and Venezuelan bishops' conferences have raised their voices in the same sense.  The chairman of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop David Malloy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rockford, Illinois, said "I urge the United States and the international community to continue praying for the bishop and advocating for his release…the consensus from the international community is clear: the continued incarceration of Bishop Alvarez is unjust and must end as soon as possible." 

                               Daniel Ortega was president of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 after the Sandinista movement ousted then-dictator Anastasio Somoza.  In 2006, Ortega won the election, and won multiple re-elections. 

                               In 2021, Ortega disqualified, and imprisoned opposition candidates, and subsequently won the 2021 election.  This 2021 election was condemned as a sham by international observers, and Daniel Ortega’s presidency is not recognised by countries such as the U.S.A..

                                The Sandinista dictatorship is run by Daniel Ortega, and his wife Rosario Murillo is vice president.  Their communist dictatorship persecutes priests, and bishops who speak out on issues of human rights, and democratic deterioration.  They shut down universities, closed Church-run charitable, and education initiatives, and Catholic radio stations.  Priests, and nuns, including the Missionaries of Charity, were expelled from Nicaragua.  Following their forced exodus, properties owned by the Catholic Church were confiscated, renamed, and put to the use of the dictatorship.  The assets of the Society of Jesus were confiscated.  Since 2022, and the Nicaraguan government has cancelled the legal status of more than 1,000 non-profit organisations of which more than 320 of these organisations are religious, and almost 3,500 civil society organisations.  The bank accounts of Roman Catholic dioceses throughout Nicaragua were frozen.

                                222 political dissidents, including former presidential candidate Félix Maradiaga, were ordered to leave Nicaragua on a plane in February 2022.  Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa refused to board the plane.  He was released for 2 days in July 2023.  Ortega wanted Álvarez to go into exile.  When Álvarez refused, he was returned to captivity. 

                                Transparency International evaluated Nicaragua as the most corrupt country in Central America in the Corruption Perception Index in July 2023.  Auxiliary Bishop Báez of Managua who lives in exile in the U.S.A. after receiving several death threats, spoke of “the unjust isolation and loneliness of some priests of our suffering Church, who have only wanted to be faithful to Jesus by announcing the truth of God and being at the side of the most suffering people.  The fierce persecution of the Catholic Church continues.  I ask the Church around the world for their prayers for our persecuted Church.”


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