By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
In view of another demonstration on Saturday, the Bishops sent a letter directly to President Ortega on Wednesday. Although the exact contents are unknown, the Bishops have been outspoken in their desire to mediate tension between anti-government groups and the government. The Bishops in Nicaragua are making it clear in other ways that they side with the people and ask the international community to pay attention to what is happening there.
Only love conquers hate
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua, celebrated Mass for the Feast of St James the Apostle in reparation for the profanation and desecration of the Church of St James the Apostle in Jinotepe which took place on July 10. The Cardinal invited the faithful not to respond violently to attacks. Rather, he explained, hate can only be conquered by love
Another statement, issued by Bishop Abelardo Mata of the diocese of Estelí, encouraged continued peaceful demonstrations, and prayer in response to the attacks. He also called for the end to the profanation of Churches by pro-government paramilitary forces.
Open persecution of the Church
Vatican News’ Patricia Ynestroza interviewed Bishop Carlos Avilés, Council for the Commission for National Dialogue in Nicaragua. He confirms that “there is open persecution of the Church. He [President Ortega] has said that the Bishops are coup leaders and that anyone who supports the demonstrators are terrorists. So, we are all terrorists because we have opened our doors to the people who are running and fleeing, and who are wounded”.
Bishop Avilés specifically stated several priests in Managua have received death threats, and at least two churches have been vandalized. Two churches were fired on yesterday in Jinotepe and Managua.
Bishop Avilés pointed out that although Ortega invokes the Constitution to remain in office until 2021, he came to power unconstitutionally, changed the Constitution by decree in order to run for re-election beyond a second term, and manipulated the elections that followed. The people are asking that he modify the law in order to step down from power just as he did to remain in power – thus anticipating elections allowing him to leave the country peacefully. “And for that there are 350 people who have died”, the Bishop said.
Church on the side of the people
With the suspension of dialogue, the bishops still hope that President Ortega will resume talks with them. Because the Church always opts for dialogue rather than violence the bishops issued a message asking all those in government and the police to let their consciences guide decisions and to remember that the commandment against killing comes first. “The Church will always be on the side of the people, supporting them, helping them…. We will help every person who approaches our churches…and offer them any type of assistance”, Bishop Avilés said.
The Church will not keep silent
In view of the demonstrations planned for Saturday, Bishop Avilés said that the only way to avoid violence is if the government withdraws its forces. The people have the civil right to peaceful demonstration. Calling on the authorities not to repress or violate this basic right is something that the Church can do on behalf of the demonstrators.
The Bishop continued saying that only the government and those who are pro-government are allowed to speak. According to him, the judicial and electoral systems are on his side, as well as the police. There is no work, he continued, and health care and quality education which is not indoctrination are lacking.
Appeal to the international community
Bishop Avilés then appealed to the international community to pay attention to what is happening in Nicaragua in order to show solidarity. He hopes that it is clear that there is not a war between two armed groups going on. Instead, peaceful demonstrators are being violently repressed, and the perpetrators of the violence are not being brought to justice. In short, Bishop Avilés says,
We ask for solidarity on the part of the international community in putting pressure on the Nicaraguan government to do what is right for the democratization of the country.