MEXICO CITY (AP) — Hundreds of Nicaraguans attended mass under a heavy police presence on Saturday after the government banned a religious procession in the capital amid tensions with the Roman Catholic Church.
Church leaders announced a day earlier that the national police had banned the planned procession for Our Lady of Fatima for “internal security” reasons. Instead, the church called on worshipers to come peacefully to the cathedral.
On Saturday, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said he gathered “with a lot of happiness, but also with a lot of sadness” because of “the situation we have experienced in our parishes”.
“Forgive them Lord, for they don’t know what they are doing,” Brenes said.
Earlier this month, President Daniel Ortega’s government shut down seven church-owned radio stations and announced an investigation into Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who has been confined to church grounds in Matagalpa. by the police for almost two weeks.
The government accuses Álvarez, a vocal critic of the government, of promoting hatred and inciting violence.
Before confining Álvarez, police surrounded a priest in Sebaco, which is also part of the diocese of Matagalpa, for several days before finally allowing him to leave.
On Saturday, a representative of the Diocese of Matagalpa presented Brenes with an image of the Lady of Fatima.
On Friday, the Vatican spoke publicly for the first time about recent movements against the church in Nicaragua.
The Vatican’s permanent observer to the Organization of American States expressed concern during a special session of the body’s permanent council. Bishop Juan Antonio Cruz called for “finding ways of understanding based on mutual respect and trust, seeking above all the common good and peace.”
During the session, 27 countries approved a resolution condemning “the forced closure of non-governmental organizations and the harassment and arbitrary restrictions imposed on religious organizations” in Nicaragua. There was one vote against and four abstentions.
Police have not allowed large public gatherings except those sponsored by the government or the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party since September 2018. Earlier that year, in April, d huge street protests have become a call for Ortega’s resignation.
Ortega maintained that it was a coup attempt carried out with foreign backing and church backing. Since then, his government has stood up to dissenting voices, including political opposition leaders and more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations.
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