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MANAGUA, Nicaragua (ChurchMilitant.com) - Civic groups in Nicaragua are denouncing "the lies and destructive hatred" unleashed by the country's communist Sandinista government, following a firebomb attack on the capital city's cathedral.
The statement by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy of Nicaragua, which was formed in response to the national dialogue convened by the Catholic bishops to address democratic reform, came after vandals firebombed the cathedral in Managua, destroying a much-venerated crucifix. Experts doubt that it can be fully restored because it was totally blackened by the flames on July 31. The face of the image of Jesus Christ fell from the rest of the corpus, and much of the wood of the corpus has been lost. There are some faithful who are calling for the image to remain unrestored and serve as a reminder of communist terrorism.
Pope St. John Paul II once knelt in prayer at the feet of the famed "Sangre de Cristo" (Blood of Christ) crucifix in 1996. It has survived earthquakes, rebellions and revolutions since it was first brought to Managua in 1638. Sculpted in colonial Guatemala in a polychrome and realistic Hispanic style, it has also been known as Our Lord of Miracles.
Traditionally, the image of the crucified Lord is exposed for the veneration of the faithful on the streets of Managua during Holy Week. As it processes through the streets, the faithful shout "Christ yesterday, Christ today, Christ always!" In the modern cathedral, the crucifix was displayed in a special chapel.
Pope Francis said in an Angelus address on Aug. 3:
I am thinking of the people of Nicaragua who are suffering after the bombing of the Managua cathedral where the venerated image of Christ was damaged, almost destroyed, which has accompanied and sustained the life of the faithful for centuries. Dear brothers and sisters of Nicaragua, I am close to you and pray for you.
"The acts against the Catholic Church are a policy of repression on the part of the dictatorship, and are evidence of the vulnerability to which all Nicaraguans have been subjected," said the statement from the Alliance. "Those who are directly or indirectly responsible for the repeated attacks on the Catholic Church are seeking to cast blame and are fabricating insulting propaganda with the complicity of the Ortega regime's police force."
The Alliance demanded an end to the "impunity" and the "terrorist policy" on the part of the communist government that has curtailed civil rights.
"We are demanding a real investigation, without impunity, that will get to the bottom of the facts, and that will rely on experts to guarantee the credibility of the probe," the statement read. "We repudiate the regime's lies and its destructive hatred of the Catholic Church and people that it has incited in speeches and public gatherings."
Papal nuncio Abp. Waldemar Stanisław has also called on the Nicaraguan government to launch a "serious" investigation.
According to the police in Nicaragua's capital, a fire was ignited after alcohol vapors supposedly accumulated in the church. But this only came after Vice President Rosario Murillo opined, "Regrettably, a fire took place, combusted and burned the aluminum structure, the cloth curtains and flowers that adorned it. It has been proved that there were votive candles burning near the Sangre de Cristo. These are the candles that we pilgrims seek to repay promises to our saints."
Murillo is the wife and accomplice of President Daniel Ortega. Their family has become wealthy during their years in power through their media companies and control over a supposedly state-owned gasoline distribution company.
The police subsequently reported: "Isopropyl alcohol vapors in a 96% concentration were in the church and were carried to the ceiling by air currents. Upon mixing with the hot air [96 degrees F.], a fire resulted from a process known scientifically as desolvation. In the church, there was a votive candle located [27.5 inches] from the cupula of the chapel of the Sangre de Cristo. The presence of a Molotov firebomb was discarded as a cause."
Just five days after the attack, embattled cardinal Leopoldo Brenes celebrated Mass at the entrance to the cathedral. During the service, he displayed the blackened face that fell from the corpus of the crucifix.
"Without a doubt, Satan is on the prowl and wants to wound the Church; he wants to hurt the bishops, hurt the priests, the nuns and our faithful," said Cdl. Brenes.
He said that he is consulting with colleagues to declare July an annual month of prayer and silence in the presence of the Blood of Christ. He also denounced vandalism suffered by Catholic churches in Leon, Isla de Ometepe, El Carmen, and Los Brasiles.
"Who can separate us from God's love? Nothing, because God loves us, and He loves us with eternal love," he said in his homily.
During a Sunday homily, Cdl. Brenes explained the Gospel story of Jesus calming his frightened Apostles on a stormy Sea of Galilee:
The Lord encountered his Apostles during a difficult moment. That boat, which represents the Church today, is shaken by the waves. And there they are, the frightened disciples. This can happen to us as well. This Church that is on pilgrimage throughout the world is attacked and vilified. But this boat is not guided by men. This boat is guided by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Just like the Apostles may have been afraid, we can also be afraid sometimes.
According to VosTV.com, fanatical supporters of the ruling Sandinista Party have threatened not only Nicaragua's bishops, but even American ambassador Kevin Sullivan. In a video that is circulating on social media, a Sandinista warns, "If you priests want to enter politics, take off your cassocks and go into politics, but don't do it from the pulpit ... remember that patience has its limits."
Nicaragua has been rocked for the last two years over protests that have pitted ordinary citizens, especially young people, against government security forces. In 2018, government forces attacked a university in Managua, killing a yet-undetermined number of students and others protesting government policies. Some count the dead at 320 at the hands of Sandinista security forces that have received support from socialist Venezuela.
Cardinal Brenes and several other bishops and media were assaulted by Sandinista thugs organized as "turbas divinas" (divine mobs) two years ago. Edén Pastora, one of the old lions of the Sandinista movement, denounced the Catholic Church that year and warned priests that "no cassock is bullet-proof."
Starting in the 1970s, Nicaragua faced increasing political violence as democracy advocates and Churchmen called for an end to the dictatorship under Anastasio Somoza and family.
It also became fertile ground for proponents of the so-called Liberation Theology, which seeks to reconcile the Catholic faith with elements of Marxist ideology. Among its proponents were the U.S.-educated Maryknoll priest Fr. Miguel d'Escoto and Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, both of whom came from prominent, wealthy families. D'Escoto served as foreign minister of the triumphant Sandinista revolution from 1979 to 1990, despite being admonished by Pope John Paul II. Cardenal served as minister of culture from 1979 to 1987. His priestly faculties were removed by Pope John Paul II but restored by Pope Francis before his death in 2020.
The so-called "divine mobs" were a trademark tactic employed by Catholics associated with the Liberation Theology, many of whom found allies among Catholics in the United States.
Lately, leftists in Latin America and the United States have unleashed terrorist attacks on Catholic churches. During weeks of disturbances in Chile last year, for example, hooded vandals entered several churches and burned pews and smeared obscene slogans on interior walls. In the United States, Antifa terrorists have likewise destroyed statues of saints and heroes associated with the Catholic faith and firebombed a historic mission church in California that only recently had been restored.
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