By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis at the Sunday Angelus address appealed for peace in Nicaragua and expressed his “deep sorrow” for the violence that has caused many deaths and injuries.
Uniting himself to the concerns of the country's bishops, the Pope called for an end to all violence and prayed for the victims and their families.
He said the Church is always in favor of dialogue but that “it requires active engagement in respect for freedom and, above all, life.”
Nicaragua has seen widespread protests after President Daniel Ortega cut pensions and social security in April. He quickly revoked the legislation, but he himself then became the focus of the protests.
On Saturday, police laid siege to a Catholic church in Masaya, some 20km south of the capital Managua, after around 30 opposition supporters sought refuge there. They had been attacked by riot police and pro-government militias.
Two people died in the church before local Church authorities intervened and those holed up there were released.
Bishop Silvio José Báez, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Managua, praised the local priest in Masaya, Edwing Roman, and a human rights activist, Álvaro Leiva, for their efforts in negotiating with Nicaraguan authorities.
He also urged President Ortega to end the crackdown on protests against his government.
US citizen killed
Also on Saturday, a United States citizen was found shot to death in Managua. The body of Sixto Henry Vera was found lying dead in the street beside two burned vehicles with a bullet wound to the head.
At least 110 people have been killed since protests began in April.
Bishops suspend talks
Earlier this week, Nicaragua’s bishops said they would not return to “national dialogue” talks called by President Daniel Ortega until certain conditions were met. “We cannot restart talks while the Nicaraguan people are denied their right to demonstrate peacefully and while civilians continue to be oppressed and assassinated.”
The bishops’ condemnation came in a statement released on Thursday in Managua.
At least 15 people were killed and more than 200 others injured on Wednesday during protests against President Ortega. Witnesses said pro-government armed groups opened fire on civilian marchers.
Nicaragua’s bishops offered themselves as mediators between the government and protesters, saying they have experienced “the violent acts with deep sorrow”.
“We firmly condemn these violent acts, which are opposed to free and peaceful protests,” the bishops say. “And we absolutely reject this organized and systematic aggression against civilians, which has left dozens injured and several dead.”