MEXICO CITY (OSV News) — The Pontifical Mission Societies and Aid to the Church in Need are urging Christians to pray for peace in Nicaragua amid a crackdown on the Catholic Church and the imprisonment of priests and bishops.
The two organizations are convening a novena to the Immaculate Conception of Mary, starting Jan. 14, in response to a call from Pope Francis for peace and dialogue in the Central American country.
“This initiative aims to gather Catholics throughout the country in prayer, echoing the Holy Father’s concern for the Nicaraguan people and the challenges they face,” the organizations said in a Jan. 11 statement.
“In heeding Pope Francis’ call, we are not just praying for Nicaragua; we are standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in their time of need,” said Inés San Martín, vice president of communications at the U.S. office of the Pontifical Mission Societies. “This Novena is an opportunity for us to unite in faith and action, embodying the compassion and love that is at the heart of our mission as Catholics.”
Pope Francis recently voiced his concern for Nicaragua after he prayed the Angelus Jan. 1.
“I have been following with deep concern what is happening in Nicaragua, where Bishops and priests have been deprived of their freedom. I express to them, to their families and to the entire Church in the country my closeness in prayer,” the pope said Jan. 1.
“I also invite … all the People of God, to pray insistently, while I hope that the path of dialogue is always sought to overcome difficulties. Let us pray for Nicaragua today,” the pontiff said.
The prayer initiative comes amid a wave of arrests in Nicaragua with at least a dozen clergy detained from their parishes and residences between Dec. 28 and Dec. 31. To date, two bishops, 13 priests and three seminarians remain behind bars, according to exiled Nicaraguan lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, who has tracked attacks on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.
Bishop Isidoro Mora of Siuna was detained in December while traveling to a parish with two seminarians after celebrating a Mass in the Dioceses of Matagalpa, in which he expressed spiritual support for the imprisoned local leader, Bishop Rolando Álvarez.
The Nicaraguan government Jan. 2 released photos of Bishop Álvarez — who has been behind bars for more than 500 days — receiving medical attention and claimed the checkup found his vital signals were fine.
The photos followed criticism from the U.S. Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller, who said Jan. 2, “Nicaraguan authorities have kept Bishop Álvarez in isolation, blocked independent evaluation of the conditions of his imprisonment, and released staged videos and photographs that only increase concerns about his well-being.”
The condition of the clergy being held remains unknown, though at least one priest is known to have a medical condition requiring attention, according to Molina.
President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have maligned church leaders as “terrorists” and “coup mongers,” while taking issue with priests opening their parishes to protesters fleeing police and paramilitary repression.
“It is false that there is religious persecution. If a priest is arrested, it will be for a reason. That is not religious persecution. For centuries and because of the open coffers, they have believed themselves above the laws, and some hierarchs even above the King of Kings,” Murillo said recently in comments reported by Nicaraguan media.
Nicaraguans express a special devotion to the Immaculate Conception, whose December feast day is widely celebrated throughout the country. The Ortega-Murillo regime has prohibited processions and public expressions of piety, while police surreptitiously monitor priests’ homilies.
“The most important thing we do in response to the sufferings of bishops, priests and faithful in Nicaragua is to pray,” said Father Roger J. Landry, ecclesiastical assistant to Aid to the Church in Need USA.
“Like Jesus’ first disciples in the Upper Room, we huddle around Our Lady praying that God will strengthen our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters and hear their prayers and ours for an end to the persecution. We do this conscious of how many times our Lady, with her powerful prayers and tears, has come to the aid of her suffering sons and daughters.”
David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City.
NOTES: Sign up to receive daily emails for this novena here: A Novena to the Immaculate Virgin Mary for Nicaragua – The Pontifical Mission Societies (onefamilyinmission.org).