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Pope Calls for Dialogue as Nicaraguan Priests Face Arrests

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Pope Francis leads Angelus prayer from window at the Vatican August 21, 2022. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS

In a concerning development, fourteen Nicaraguan priests have been arrested, prompting Pope Francis to advocate for dialogue during his Monday prayer. The latest arrest, that of priest Gustavo Sandino on New Year’s Eve, follows a wave of detentions initiated by President Daniel Ortega, beginning with the apprehension of Bishop Isidoro Mora on December 20. The situation has raised international alarms about religious freedom and human rights in Nicaragua.

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Pope’s Concerns Echo Worldwide Worries

Pope Francis, expressing deep concern from Rome, remarked on the deprivation of liberty faced by bishops and priests in Nicaragua. His call for dialogue to overcome difficulties emphasizes the urgent need for a peaceful resolution in the face of escalating tensions between the Catholic Church and President Ortega’s government.

The strained relationship between the Church and Ortega’s administration originated during the 2018 protests against social security reforms. Accusations by Ortega of the religious community supporting the opposition led to the church providing shelter to protesters, further deepening the divide. This historical context underscores the gravity of the current crackdown on religious figures.

President Ortega, a former guerrilla leader, has faced accusations of authoritarianism, including the exile and imprisonment of dissidents, the elimination of term limits, and the consolidation of power across all branches of the state. The closure of numerous organizations post-2018 protests highlights a broader pattern of suppressing dissent.

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Global Appeal for Action

A coalition of exiled Nicaraguans is urging the international community to withdraw economic and political support for the country. With the arrests perceived as an attempt to “silence and exterminate the Catholic Church,” global attention is intensifying on the need for intervention and the release of 120 jailed dissidents.

The Ortega government’s actions, accused of seeking to silence critics, have resulted in the closure of over 3,000 associations, NGOs, and unions. With hundreds of critics detained, including those challenging Ortega ahead of the 2021 elections, a dozen organizations are urgently calling for international support to address the growing crisis and secure the release of those unjustly held.

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