Thousands march in support of bishops after attack
Thousands of Nicaraguans marched through the capital, Managua, bearing images of the Virgin Mary and Nicaraguan flags in a show of support for the country’s bishops who are mediating in the National Dialogue Process between the government and the opposition and have been attacked by paramilitaries with ties to the government. Demonstrators carried banners saying “Thank you, courageous bishops, for being with your people” and “The bishops, heroes of peace.” Catholics, evangelicals, and even non-Christians took part in the rally, shouting “freedom” and “Bishop, the people are with you.” One evangelical, Henry Aguilar, said that non-Catholic churches had joined the demonstration in support of the Catholic bishops “because we are Nicaraguans, and the same system attacking them is also attacking us.”
Nicaraguans took to the streets in support of the Church after Ortega accused the bishops of being “part of the plan with those plotting a coup,” when they proposed that he hold early presidential elections to alleviate tensions in the country and not run for office again. Elma Amador, a Mormon who was one of the demonstrators, said that President Ortega “knows he’s lying, he knows the bishops are not attempting a coup. He’s afraid that the people have risen up, have woken up, and that’s why he makes baseless accusations.”
The Outcry for Nicaragua movement and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy organised the march with the theme of “Pilgrimage for our bishops, defenders of truth and justice.” The Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference did not participate in the event. The march ended at Managua cathedral, where Carlos Avilés, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Managua, told the demonstrators that “the Catholic Church, even if it is mistreated, even though they criticize it, will always choose justice and dialogue.”
The march was another demonstration of popular opposition to President Ortega, who is reviled by large sections of Nicaragua’s population after a brutal three-month crackdown on anti-government protests in which more than 300 people have been killed. “Given this supremely critical situation, [the church] has, yesterday, today and forever, given life and voice to those who have no voice,” said Fr Silvio Fonseca, a priest who attended the march.
Cardinal Brenes of Managua posted a message on the archdiocese’s Facebook page the day after the march in which he thanked “the lay people of the Catholic Church, our faithful, as well as many members of the other sister churches that joined that pilgrimage, and also other organizations, men and women of good will who came together to support the work the Bishops’ Conference is doing.” Brenes said that “the bishops of Nicaragua took up this request of the Presidency to participate as mediators and witnesses [in the national peace talks to resolve the crisis], and we are doing it with an attitude of service.”
“We are rendering a service, but we do not seek to be kings, nor the president, nor ministers, nor anything of the kind, we are just servants,” he stated. “Our thanks to all those brothers who yesterday demonstrated here in Managua and in other dioceses…we ask you for your prayers since that is what strengthens us.”