The pastoral center of the Diocese of Matagalpa in central Nicaragua, whose bishop is currently in Rome to inform the pope of the situation in his country, was attacked by men armed with machetes on Tuesday.
Two months of protests against Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega have resulted in more than 200 deaths.
The priests of the Matagalpa diocese stated that around noon on June 26 “our Charterhouse Diocesan Pastoral Center was raided by a group of masked men armed with machetes.”
The priests indicated that the assailants “stormed into the center,” took away valuables, and damaged the furniture and the infrastructure. They also threatened the guard.
The priests expressed their sadness “for this desecration of a sacred place dedicated to evangelization and spirituality.” They also condemned the lack of respect for members of the Church and its goods.
“This shameful act is an affront to the person of our pastor Bishop Rolando Álvarez who is on his consultative trip to Rome, and to our parishioners,” the priests said, asking the authorities to find those responsible.
The clergy of the Matagalpa diocese renewed their “urgent call for peace, the end of the violence, and we strongly support the strengthening of the national dialogue in order to come to and honor a national accord for peace and justice. Let’s keep our sanity and respect for others. Let us pray untiringly to the Lord.”
The country’s bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups, and were quick to acknowledge the protesters’ complaints. Bishops and priests across Nicaragua have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.
Bishop Álvarez is currently in Rome together with Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua to brief Pope Francis on the state of affairs in Nicaragua.
He wrote on Twitter June 27 that “As soon as I arrived in Rome, I was informed of the lamentable events that took place at the Charterhouse Pastoral Center. They achieved their objective. Already I knew. This was obviously directed. This is the reality Nicaragua is going through.”
Bishop Álvarez has been outspoken in favor of the opposition; he exhorted Nicaraguans during his June 10 homily to join “the immense majority” of the population which is asking for an urgent change in the country since “Nicaragua can no longer tolerate this.”
He has also said, “We hope there would be a series of electoral reforms, structural changes to the electoral authority – free, just and transparent elections, international observation without conditions … Effectively the democratization of the country.”
Fr. Vicente Martínez Bermúdez, a priest of the Diocese of Matagalpa, has reported that over the weekend he was detained by a group of 20 hooded men and threatened with death. Another priest of the Matagalpa diocese was wounded by shrapnel May 15 while trying to separate protesters and security forces, the AP reported.
Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.
Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout the country, and clashes frequently turn lethal.
Peace talks resumed June 25 under the Church’s mediation.
But the day prior, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights charged that Matagalpa, as well as Diriamba, Managua, Masaya, Nagarote, and Tipitapa were attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.
The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega’s administration.
The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega’s authoritarian bent.
Ortega has shown resistance to calls for elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, to be held early.
Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.
He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.