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MANAGUA, Nicaragua (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has suffered repeated attacks by pro-government forces as violent clashes wrack the country.
Anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April. Student protests were triggered by the government's failure to manage forest fires. But protesting amped up when the government, under President Daniel Ortega, announced plans to cut pension benefits and social security.
The government cracked down on the protesters. Clashes with police on April 19 led to the deaths of two civilians and one police officer. By April 22, the death toll had reached at least 20. Even though the government canceled the proposed pension cuts, protests are continuing. In mid-June, the death toll neared 150. Earlier this week, it passed 300.
Police forces, paramilitaries and pro-government mobs have repeatedly attacked Nicaragua's Catholic clergy and churches. There are even claims that paramilitaries have desecrated tabernacles and spread the Eucharist out on the floor.
In April, the bishops of Nicaragua — and even Pope Francis — were quick to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Nicaragua. The Church originally tried to mediate discussions between the government and the opposition, but dialogue efforts broke down in mid-May.
The country's bishops issued a statement on May 31 condemning the government's repression of citizens' voices.
Peace talks have been on and off. In mid-June, there was a promise of ceasefire, but it proved short-lived.
Three bishops were assaulted by a pro-government mob on July 10. The prelates were trying to enter San Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba, about 25 miles south of the capital city of Managua, to help the protesters and medics who were trapped there.
A pro-government crowd surrounded the three bishops. They shouted at the prelates and even assaulted them.
One of the bishops, Managua Auxiliary Bp. Silvio José Baez Ortega, shared photos online depicting his wounds from the physical attacks. The bishop said on Twitter, "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 be to God. The basilica was liberated, and [so were] those who were within."
On July 13, about 150 student protesters in Managua fled into Divine Mercy Parish, seeking safety from paramilitaries. Pro-government forces besieged the church, killing two students with gunfire. The next day, the students were transferred to Managua's Immaculate Conception Cathedral and received medical care.
On July 15, Bp. Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara of Esteli was attacked at a police checkpoint in Nindiri, about 15 miles from Managua, on July 15. Paramilitaries attacked and damaged the bishop's car. He and his driver took shelter in a house for an hour and a half as pro-government forces shouted at him from outside. Bishop Mata was only able to leave the house after church officials contacted the government and the police commissioner, Ramon Avellan, came to the bishop's aid.
This week on social media, images are being shared that allegedly portray sacrilege committed by paramilitaries. The photos show tabernacles lying open with the Eucharist on the floor. Those sharing the photos say that paramilitaries are to blame. One such image was shared on Facebook on Thursday.
In a speech on Thursday, Ortega complained about the country's bishops, "I thought they were mediators, but no, they are committed to the coup mongers. They were part of the coup mongers' plan."