European Bishops join outcry over crackdown against Church in Nicaragua
By Lisa Zengarini
In the wake of the sentencing of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa to 26 years’ imprisonment, and of the expulsion to the United States of 222 opponents of President Daniel Ortega's regime, European Bishops have joined Latin American episcopates and Pope Francis in expressing solidarity with the Church in Nicaragua.
The Nicaraguan prelate was convicted last week by the Appeal Court of Managua for treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news, after refusing to be expelled along with the other political prisoners, and is currently detained in the high security prison of La Modelo.
A serious breach of the rule of law
In a statement released on Tuesday, Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, President of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), conveyed their closeness to the people and Church of Nicaragua, and appealed to all bishops to inform their respective governments of he called a “grave breach of the rule of law” in the Central American nation.
The Lithuanian prelate pointed out that, other than the official allegations of treason, threat to national integrity and spreading false news, the charges against Bishop Álvarez remain unclear: “It was impossible to follow the trial in detail to understand how the allegations were substantiated and proved”, he said, also noting that the conviction would not have occurred if the bishop had instead agreed to leave the country with the political dissidents freed and expelled on February 9.
Church's commitment for the most vulnerable
The president of the CCEE further remarked that the Church has never wanted anything other than to contribute to the well-being of the country in which it serves. “Even in times of greatest persecution, it has supported the weakest, consoled the suffering and given refuge. It is also doing so in Nicaragua”, he said.
Archbishop Grušas therefore urged Nicaraguan authorities "to listen to the voice of the people” and to take decisions allowing a peaceful transition in the country that has been experiencing social conflict for five years.”
Appeal for the release of political prisoners in Nicaragua
Finally, he called for "the release of political prisoners, as a sign of good will to restore a dialogue that can lead to just social peace and allow the country to prosper".
The statement concludes with the assurance that the Churches of Europe unite around the Church in Nicaragua, Bishop Álvarez and the priests currently detained.
Heeding Pope Francis' appeal on Sunday, Archbishop Grušas called on the faithful to pray for Nicaragua, asking the Lord to “open the hearts of political leaders and all citizens to the sincere search for peace, which is born of truth, justice, freedom and love, and is achieved through the patient exercise of dialogue.”
Latin American bishops' solidarity with Nicaragua
The CCEE statement follows several declarations of support and solidarity with the Church in Nicaragua from Bishops’ Conferences across Latin America, who have called the sentence against Álvarez unjust, arbitrary, and disproportionate.
Spanish Bishops have also raised their voices, expressing sorrow and concern for “the bishops of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference who are suffering persecution by the government for defending the freedom of Nicaraguans.”
Pope Francis added his voice during the Angelus of February 12, saying he is praying for Bishop Álvarez, “for those who have been deported to the United States, and for all those who suffer in the beloved nation of Nicaragua”.
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