During the April 2018 rebellion, the pastoral and humanitarian work of Father Edwin Roman was exemplary. This parish priest from the San Miguel church in Masaya has been active in the liberation of the political prisoners, medical attention for the wounded and accompanying the family members of those killed. These things have earned him the admiration of the citizens, but also threats and risks to his life.
Father Roman has been arrested and beaten. They’ve also tried to incriminate him. However, he declares that “the church grows stronger in times of persecution,” and maintains that he has no plans to go into exile or to abandon his pastoral labors.
In mid-June, the U.S. State Department published a report on “International Religious Freedom” documenting the religious persecution in Nicaragua.
Father Roman affirms that this persecution originates directly with the ruling couple. “They take advantage of the ignorance of their grassroots, of the people, to stir them up and set them against their brothers and sisters in the Church,” the parish priest explains.
Roman feels that the US report is “opportune”, and that “they’re following closely what happens in Nicaragua” with the FSLN government. This same government, he recalls, was already persecuting the bishops and priests of the Church during the eighties.
“We’ve seen it in the attacks on the cathedrals in Leon, Managua and other parishes. The Church isn’t an enemy of the State. If they’ve seen priests and bishops lending their help to the defenseless people, it’s because that’s our mission,” argues the priest, who agreed to be interviewed in his church where the holes left by stones and bullets are still visible in the walls.
Episcopal Conference still silent on report
Despite the denunciations contained in the US State Department report, the principal leaders of the Catholic Church haven’t yet issued any pronouncement, and to date no bishop has offered a reaction to the document. However, Father Roman assures that the topic isn’t far from the minds of the Nicaraguan bishops and priests.
“The Episcopal Conference is a collegial body, made up of pastors in the Nicaraguan churches. They’re also human beings. I can’t say that there are divisions, but only that it’s a group of colleagues and they must reach a consensus,” was the priest’s explanation.
In his view, the Conference has already recognized and denounced the religious persecution. “We’ve seen it in the pastoral letters and communiques that have been issued about the current situation. This will likewise have its moment, but, yes, I can assure you that a number of bishops and also priests have raised their voices with me in all that’s occurring,” he affirmed.
The report also mentions the attacks against Bishops Abelard Mata and Silvio Baez, who have now been transferred to Rome, but who in their moment raised their voices against the abuse of power in Nicaragua.
Regime tried to accuse him
Father Roman maintains that the persecution has also involved attempts to incriminate the priests. The parish leader recalled how one morning towards the end of July 2018, Commissioner Farle Roa Trana, second in command at the infamous El Chipote interrogation prison, disguised himself as a penitent in an attempt to tie the priest to the crime of arms and ammunition trafficking.
“I was in the doorway of the pastoral house when a little grey car of the Yaris model with Leon license plates came by. It stopped, and the driver rolled down the window and told me that he wanted me to hear his confession. I got into his vehicle and began listening to his supposed confession. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t really a penitent, because he asked me: “What do you think about my running arms and explosives from Monimbo to the universities in Managua?” I answered him that he should follow the dictates of his conscience, and then I got out of his car. However, when I closed the door, I noted a red and black [Ortega FSLN Party] flag,” the priest recounted.
The church isn’t alone
Despite the harassment and provocation from the regime, Father Roman celebrates the fact that every day more of the faithful arrive at his church from different parts f the country. “I’ve seen many fruits of the parish labors. The church becomes stronger in times of persecution,” he emphasizes.
The religious leader asserts that atheists and people from other religions have also expressed their admiration and respect for the work realized by the Catholic Church during the socio-political crisis in Nicaragua.
Father Roman is convinced that “in no way” is the Church alone. “There’s a people that is praying,” he states, adding that although they’ve felt the citizens’ solidarity, the bishops and priests aren’t looking to be protagonists of the struggle, “nor for any gratitude”.
“It’s a humanitarian labor and in time God will know how to compensate us. While we’re in this world, we have a mission to do something good for God’s people,” he underlines.
In contrast, the religious leader is critical of the regime’s utilization of Christian symbols for their political propaganda and “false reconciliation.” He challenges them to preach by example.
“What did Mr. Daniel [Ortega] say in the plaza [on July 19, 2018]? That the bishops and we in the Church are assassins, coup leaders. So, we can see how they’ve been stirring up their grassroots. This grieves me, because they take advantage of the people’s ignorance,” he concludes regretfully.
Thank you for reading our English section, brought to you in collaboration with Havana Times. If you wish to subscribe to our English Weekly Newsletter, you can do it here. Please spread the word and share this link with your friends, family or contacts.