Church strongly condemns attack on bishops by pro-Government paramilitaries
The Nicaraguan Catholic Bishops Conference has strongly condemned the attack on Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua; his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio José Baez Ortega; and Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag, apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua. The Archdiocese of Managua said the assault committed “by persons close to the government and armed paramilitaries” was “condemnable and repudiable.”
The Bishops Conference reiterated that the Bishops were standing on the side of the suffering people in the nation and said the delegation of bishops had been “fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ, to be at the side of the suffering people, a pastoral visit to the priests and faithful of the Carazo department, the victims of police, paramilitaries and crowds producing death and dolour.”
The attack happened on 9 July when the bishops, priests and a delegation of journalists arrived outside the San Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba, about 25 miles south of the capital Managua. They had gone to meditate and help a group of students, priests and journalists who were hiding in the basilica from the pro-government forces after a man had been killed in the parish. Dozens of people, including several wounded and volunteer medics, were still locked in the besieged basilica. By the time the bishops arrived, the parish had been under siege for over 16 hours by armed paramilitaries loyal to Ortega.
The bishops managed to persuade the paramilitaries to allow an ambulance in to transfer the wounded. However, when the bishops tried to enter the basilica, their route was blocked, and the pro-government groups called them murderers and liars. Bishop Baez was punched in the stomach, sustained an injury to his arm and his episcopal cross was snatched from him aa the situation turned violent. One of the priests accompanying the Bishops had his mobile phone snatched from him and some of the journalists were also pushed, punched and had their equipment stolen.
Later Bishop Baez posted a tweet showing a cut on his arm, and saying, “Besieged by an angry mob who wanted to enter the Basilica of San Sebastian in Diriamba, I was wounded, hit in the stomach, robbed of my episcopal insignia and verbally attacked. I am well, thanks are to God. The basilica was liberated, and those who were within.” He told the media:
“We’re becoming a persecuted Church that has suffered verbal aggression and calumnies both in the media and in social media,” he said. “And some bishops, as is my case, have been threatened to death and been physically attacked.” Cardinal Brenes said he had “felt the brutal force” exercised against his priests.
Violent protests against president Daniel Ortega which began in April have resulted in more than 300 deaths. Nicaragua’s bishops have mediated intermittent peace talks between the government and opposition groups. They also asked that the next national election, scheduled for 2021, be held sooner but President Daniel Ortega, who has been in power since 2007, has rejected their request.
Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, said that despite a report from the Organization of International States calling for an end to the repression in Nicaragua, the situation is getting worse.
“The regime is even carrying out summary executions as a means of intimidation,” he said. “It is clearer than ever that Ortega and his cronies do not care about the Nicaraguan people, and that their only goal is to cement their authoritarian grip on power.”
Earlier this month, Pope Francis encouraged the efforts for peace in Nicaragua after the noonday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square. Although the Vatican does not plan to file an official complaint regarding the attack against its representative Archbishop Sommertag, the pope is urging Nicaragua to “respect human rights, not only those of the bishops, as this would be shortsighted.”
The Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) called for a Day of Prayer for Nicaragua, in all the Churches of Latin America, on Sunday, 22 July to express their “closeness and solidarity” with the Nicaraguan people and their Pastors, “prophets of justice,” given the tragic and painful social and political crisis being experienced there at present.