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Priests: “We do not conceive a Church muzzled by fear”

Priests denounce the electoral farce and persecution against the Church; warn that they will not remain silent in the face of human rights violations

In a context where silence reigns for fear of reprisals, the prophetic voice of the Catholic Church challenges the “State of terror” of Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua. 

“For bad people, the Church is a stone in their shoe”, assures priest Vicente Martinez, parish priest of the Santa Lucia church in Ciudad Dario, Matagalpa. This week, Father Martinez denounced that the police chiefs of his city visited him after a homily in which he affirmed that an electoral farce will take place in the country. 

The critical position of the Church in the face of human rights violations, the annulment of public liberties and civil and political rights, has caused the regime to become annoyed and they have undertaken a smear campaign and threats against Nicaraguan priests, whom Ortega himself has called “terrorists” and “devil priests”. 

“The Church is not an enemy of the State. But it also denounces injustices, and accompanies its people,” says Father Edwin Roman, parish priest of San Miguel Archangel Church in Masaya. 

“They want to blame the Church for the evils that they have caused. If we remain silent we become accomplices,” Father Martinez states. Both priests denounce the electoral farce of the regime and the persecution against the Church, and warn that they will not remain silent in the face of human rights violations.  

Father Vicente, this week you denounced the police intimidation you suffered after you questioned the lack of freedom for transparent elections in Nicaragua during a homily. What happened?

I attended to them, as I attend to any person. They told me that they were on a courtesy visit, visiting all the parishes in the diocese. I spoke to another priest of the diocese, and I was told it was a lie. Then, I realized that this visit was specifically to me. 

They had the intention of talking to me, (to tell me) that I should know about the Electoral Law, that the elections were coming, that the Church has expertise in these matters, telling people to be careful, to avoid crowds; but I was also very surprised that they asked me where I live, who my mother is, who my father is. I am afraid that they might do something to my family. 

The reason for the visit was what I said on Sunday at the end of the Eucharist, that the elections are not true, they are not fair, they are not transparent.

And at the time of the visit, did they question what you said at the mass? 

They did not question anything, but they told me that it was good for me to know the Electoral Law, they put emphasis on that. I said, and what does the Electoral Law say? They didn’t want to tell me anything, I don’t think they know either.

Father Edwin, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua has warned that political rights have been annulled in Nicaragua and that these elections are not credible; this week the Episcopal Conference also urged each citizen to decide, from the inner and inviolable dignity of their conscience, whether or not to vote on November 7. How does the Catholic Church evaluate the right to elect and be elected on November 7?

Personally, I can say that we are under a regime that is trying to continue in a state of terror and, therefore, for me these are illegitimate elections.

The Episcopal Conference released a message in which it truly calls on the conscience of the citizens. The Church will not tell you: vote for this one of that one, but will call on conscience, because the Church, let us remember, is mother and teacher, it calls to the conscience of the citizen, to make a choice. 

Father Vicente, you mentioned during a mass that this is an electoral face, and that no true patriot will approve these votes. What is the feeling of the people in Ciudad Darío, in the rural communities you visit, where you do your pastoral work?

The feeling of the people is that there is no one to vote for, people say: “We have no candidate, there is no competition, there is no one to trust, because we already know who are the candidates that go against this Government, and we already know who the Magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Council are”. So people are confused, they have no confidence in anyone, here in the city and the thirty rural communities I visit in my parish.That is my feeling, and the feeling of my coordinators in the counties, the feeling of the pastoral cadres is that there is no one to trust.

Father Edwin, how does the Catholic Church evaluate the situation of more than 150 political prisoners?

The Church has always raised its voice, and is doing so at this historic moment for the defense of human rights in Nicaragua, and has always asked and requested the release of all political prisoners, because they are there unjustly, they are being held hostage because they have not committed any crime. 

Father Vicente, the Government has described the prophetic work of the Catholic Church and the denunciations of human rights as an attempted coup d’etat. Is the Catholic Church in Nicaragua being persecuted? 

Father Vicente:  Yes, of course. The Church is a critical voice of evil, of injustice, of corruption, of sin, therefore it is a stone in the shoe of bad people. We have not killed anyone, we have not imprisoned anyone, as the Church, as priests, we have not caused the problem of immigration. They want to blame the Church for being the cause of all the evils which they have caused, and therein lies the cynicism.

As we say in Nicaragua: they kill you and then go to the funeral, they bring you bread, they bring you sugar, and they tell you “I am very sorry”, they even give you their condolences. In other words, they want to blame the Church for what they have done. We as the Church, and I as a priest feel calm, because I have not killed anyone, I have not harmed anyone. On the other hand, they had this problem in 2018. Whenever I remember 2018, it brings me sadness to think of how many people were killed, more than three hundred. 

And what they do then, they want to blame it on the Church, they want to blame others. 

Father Edwin: The Church is not the enemy of the State. The priests, the bishops, are not looking for any political post, any ministry, any deputation, nor does anyone intend to become president. The Church performs its prophetic role of announcing the good news of the kingdom of God, but the Church also denounces injustices, and accompanies its people, as a Good Samaritan; we are not here to please any oppressor, and this has led us to be persecuted, to be slandered, to be attacked… We have Monsignor (Silvio) Báez in exile today, like many Nicaraguans today.

There are also many of our faithful who are being persecuted, because many of the faithful have been told to decide between their work or the Church. 

Father Vincent, the fanatics of the regime criticize you for not commenting on the national crisis, or on politics. How do you respond to this?

The Church is not oblivious to any pain suffered by the people. We are not enemies of any government, we only point out the evil that is being done. Remember that if the Church were to remain silent about so many things, so much injustice, it would be an accomplice. We only live the reality of our people. 

We see the poverty, the lack of life, the migration, the threats, the unjust imprisonments, and then, if we were to remain silent, what would our role be? The role of the mute? No. Christ was never indifferent to human suffering.

Faced with these scenarios of repression, does the Catholic Church, the priests, the faithful, have a hope for a way out of the national crisis?

Father Edwin: Of course there is. In the face of this scenario of repression, there is hope, whether we are believers or not, we have that virtue, evil, death will never have the last word.

Father Vicente: Pope Francis said: hope does not disappoint anyone. Monsignor Rolando (Alvarez), who is the bishop of our diocese of Matagalpa, has invited us: fathers, keep alive the faith of the people, keep alive the hope of the people. And he said a very beautiful phrase: A people in despair is a people buried. Therefore, hope, as some say, does not fill but maintains. And we remain firm, encouraging our people to keep hope, and to think of a better country for the children, for the youth, and thus to be able to build a country together, as it should be.

Father Edwin: You have to accompany the people, not only in joy, but also in times of suffering like what we are living through now, when we have had to go out to the street to pick up the dead, to heal the wounded. I do not conceive a Church with a muzzle of fear. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

https://mailchi.mp/confidencial.com.ni/englishnewsletterform


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