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Pope appeals for Nicaraguan Bishop sentenced to jail for 26 years

Traditional Easter Procession in Nicaragua (file photo)

Pope Francis appealed, on Sunday, to Nicaragua's political leaders and all citizens to open their hearts "to the sincere search for peace, which is born of truth, justice, freedom, and love, and is achieved through the patient exercise of dialogue."

Pope Francis said that he was closely following developments "with concern and sorrow," at the Angelus prayer on Sunday, August 21, 2022, and hoped "through an open and sincere dialogue, the basis for a respectful and peaceful coexistence might still be found" in Nicaragua.

This appeal to Nicaragua’s political leaders comes in the context of the sentencing of Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa to 26 years of imprisonment and the expulsion of 222 political detainees.

Pope Francis expressed his great sadness on the news from Nicaragua and his concern for Bishop Alvarez, "whom I love so much," who has been sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Despite the sentence being expected on February 15, it came the day after Bishop Álvarez declined to be expelled to the United States along with 222 detained opponents of President Manuel Ortega, including five priests, a deacon, and two seminarians sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring against the government.

The deportees were declared "traitors of the homeland." They were awaiting a residence permit in the US.

Bishop Álvarez and the deportees were deprived of their Nicaraguan citizenship for "committing acts that undermine independence, sovereignty, and self-determination of the people, and for inciting violence, terrorism, and economic destabilization."

Monsignor José Leonardo Urbina and Father Manuel Salvador García Rodríguez of the Diocese of Granada remained in a Nicaraguan jail with similar charges.

The Pope prayed for the bishop, those deported to the US, and all Nicaraguans in need.

He asked the faithful to pray to the Lord for the Immaculate Virgin Mary's intercession.

Pope Francis then led the faithful in the recitation of the Hail Mary.

Bishop Álvarez became the first bishop imprisoned since Ortega's return to power in 2007.

With the accusation of attempting to "organize violent groups" to " destabilize the Nicaraguan State and attack the constitutional authorities," the bishop, priests, seminarians, and laypeople were detained in Curia for two weeks on August 19, 2022.

He was not charged until December, and in January, a court in Managua ordered Bishop Álvarez to remain under house arrest. Still now, he was transferred to the high-security prison.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the President of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), expressed solidarity with the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and called for the detainees' release on February 6.

The Episcopal Council of Latin America, Chilean, and Spanish bishops have denounced Nicaragua's human rights violations, Bishop Rolando Álvarez's detention, and political opponents' expulsion.

After receiving many death threats, Pope Francis requested Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez to leave the diocese in 2019.

The government also deported the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, and 18 Missionaries of Charity in 2022.

Nicaragua is Central America's biggest country. Honduras borders the north and Costa Rica the south.

The Caribbean Sea borders the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. - With inputs from Vatican News


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