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MASAYA, Nicaragua (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics are experiencing increased persecution and oppression in the Nicaragua ruled by Marxist president Daniel Ortega.
Recent events that unfolded outside San Miguel Arcangel Church in Masaya, a town 25 kilometers from the capital of Managua, symbolize what Catholic priests and their parishioners have been experiencing as chronic violence has put a stranglehold on this small Central American nation.
On Nov. 14, 2019, Father Edwin Roman attempted to convince the police to allow relatives of imprisoned and dead anti-government demonstrators to enter the San Miguel Arcangel Church and attend Mass to honor the victims. Some parishioners were already inside praying and fasting for the victims.
Videos shared on social media show Father Edwin Roman attempting to bring the families through police lines in front of San Miguel Arcangel Church
But the family members were prevented from entering as police maintained a tight cordon around the area and cut water and electricity services to the building. Mass was celebrated but only a small number of families could enter the parish.
.@BiancaJagger ��BREAKING @Articulo66Nica reports that Father Edwin Román, of St. Michael's Church in Masaya, Nicaragua is currently being detained by police in that city. He was beaten by the police who wanted to take his cellphone.@jbaezni @helenaguirrefer @IRF_Ambassador pic.twitter.com/lDdtfnDqDs— Carmelite Quotes (@carmelitequotes) February 14, 2019
"We only want to celebrate the Eucharist," he said as police blocked his path.
He said to the press and anyone filming the event: "Let the world see and know that there is no freedom of worship in Nicaragua.”
Fr. Edwin added a message directed at Ortega and and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, "[They] are showing weakness, that they're in an unstable position and one of these days Nicaragua will toss them into the trash bin of history."
The brutal repression unleashed by Daniel Ortega´s paramilitaries against civilians in 2018 has continued to wreak havoc. Security forces still generally refrain from entering Catholic Church property. But the line was pushed on Thursday.
One high-ranking Nicaraguan prelate critical of Ortega described Nicaragua as a "demonic Marxist regime" of "murders and crimes against humanity."
The prelate said there is a "permanent harassment of priests" ... "and harassment against people involved in the activities of the church because they [the communist officials] have felt in the Catholic Church a strength that is going against their plans and programs to maintain power at all costs using only the force of weapons."
At least 328 people were killed, 2,000 wounded, hundreds detained and 88,000 fled into exile in 2018, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Human rights organizations estimate that at least 35 died during the siege of Masaya by the paramilitaries of Ortega.
Ortega has since banned protests and smothered dissent, using spies and infiltrators to entrap Church people.
Masaya's priest is no stranger to intimidation by and face-offs with the communists. He opened the doors of the parish to attend to the wounded during the brutal repression of Ortega's paramilitaries in 2018. He said,
I was in my room and heard shots, explosions and people running and shouting and I did not feel good keeping the door of the priest's house closed. So, I opened the gate, the doors and immediately began to take care of young people wounded. I gave them water and that night, from seven until three in the morning, we were with neighbors attending the young. The following day there was more repression and there were more than 25 wounded, two of them seriously, who were taken to a private hospital in Managua. And, there were also dead: the first to arrive was a 15 years old boy with an AK-rifle shot in the chest. Afterwards, there were three more people killed. The presbytery became some kind of morgue, people were given refuge and it became a site ... [for] mothers who were looking for their children. It became a dispensary with about 14 paramedics and four doctors providing attention.
"I can tell when people are infiltrators," the pro-democracy priest said. Spies for the government, he said, try to entrap him. He described a woman who turned up at San Miguel one day. She looked about "40, nicely dressed in slacks and a blouse," he said, and she moved into the pew where he was hearing confessions. She leaned toward him whispering, "Where can I get bombs?" The priest said he quickly realized what was going on.
Sunday Masses at San Miguel burst the at seams with parishioners. Having risked his life many times for his parishioners, they listen carefully to his sermons. Some ladies cry, while from the pulpit he criticizes "without euphemism or ambiguity" those who "imprison, kill or blacklist their neighbors."
He calls those who come to Mass to tape his sermons and then turn them over to authorities "false Christians." But he says maybe through their actions, Ortega and his wife may listen to his words and become converted.
Inside the church, parishioners place Nicaraguan flags alongside a statue of San Miguel. Blue-and-white ribbons dangle from a figure of the Risen Christ. "This is how people now protest," said the priest. Anything more could land them in jail.
Nicaraguan bishops have also been intimidated and attacked. Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez of Managua, an outspoken critic of the Ortega regime, was called to Rome reportedly for his own safety in 2018.
Baez tweeted on November 19 that he had spoken to Fr. Edwin and the situation had calmed down, but not after the police cut power and water to the parish. The victims' families who had remained inside the church after the Mass were carrying out a hunger strike, he said.
Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, cling to power. Fr. Edwin, considered a civic hero in Masaya after having suffered alongside and for his parishioners for years, remains a target for the communist forces in Nicaragua.
He can be heard saying on a video of Thursday's event "Long live Christ the King! Long live freedom!"