Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 19, 2018 / 01:04 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Council of Latin American Bishops has expressed solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and declared Sunday, July 22, a day of prayer for the country.
The bishops of Nicaragua have also called for a day of fasting on July 20, and a month of prayer including adoration, the rosary, fasting, penance and the renewal of baptismal promises.
In a message released July 18, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean expressed their “closeness and solidarity with the Nicaraguan people and with their pastors, prophets of justice, in the face of the dramatic and painful social and political crisis currently experienced there.”
“In the face of this grave situation, we are called to be the voice of those who have no voice to uphold their rights, to finds ways to dialogue and establish justice and peace, ‘so that in Christ all may have life,’ especially those who feel disconsolate because of the deaths and violence.”
“We encourage you to continue to defend human rights and to be bearers of hope,” the council told the bishops of Nicaragua.
Since April 18, there have been massive demonstrations in Nicaragua against President Daniel Ortega, who has been in power since 2007 and was reelected in 2016 in elections disputed by the opposition. In January 2014, he oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits.
The demonstrations have been put down by police and paramilitaries, with more than 300 deaths.
The Catholic Church has participated as a mediator and witness to national peace talks convened by Ortega. However, Church officials have also faced attacks from groups with ties to the government.
On July 9, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, and Bishop Silvio Báez were assaulted during a pastoral visit to Diriamba.
Divine Mercy parish in Managua, where more than 100 students had taken refuge, was also attacked by police and paramilitaries during the night of July 13.
The following day, pro-government mobs attacked the car of Bishop Abelardo Mata of Estelí. The bishop took refuge in a nearby house and was able to return to his diocese only after dark, with the help of Cardinal Brenes, who intervened with the government to send police commissioner Ramon Avellan to guarantee Mata’s physical safety.
The Organization of American States condemned the violence in Nicaragua July 18 and urged Ortega to hold early elections in March 2019 to alleviate the crisis. The bishops of Nicaragua made a similar request last June, but Ortega has ruled this out.
In their July 14 statement, the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference denounced “the lack of political will by the government to dialogue” and seek real processes that would lead the country to a true democracy.
Nicaragua’s crisis began 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 protesters were killed by security forces initially.
Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.
The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protesters 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 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.
Aid to the Church in Need has launched an online global prayer campaign for Nicaragua, stressing that the nation is facing “its bloodiest crisis since the 80s.”
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.
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