Bishop Rolando Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Credit: Diocese of Matagalpa
ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 14, 2023 / 09:45 am (CNA).
The bishops of the Latin American Bishops’ Council (CELAM) offered a Mass Monday in El Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, where the remains of St. Óscar Romero are interred, for the intentions and prompt release of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, and several Nicaraguan priests.
Romero was an outspoken critic of political injustice in the country and of the violence affecting the lives of ordinary Salvadorians. He was shot to death in 1980 while saying Mass by an assassin tied to the military dictatorship.
Monday’s Mass in San Salvador was part of the opening of the regional assembly for Central America-Mexico of the continental phase of the Synod on Synodality.
In a Feb. 11 letter, Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos of Trujillo, Peru, and president of CELAM, said that the Eucharist is to be “an expression of the solidarity and heartfelt fraternity of our Latin American and Caribbean Church with those who are unjustly deprived of freedom in Nicaragua.”
The bishops of Guatemala also expressed “their solidarity with Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a courageous shepherd devoted to his people and his sheep, who has faced persecution for a long time and now imprisonment by the prevailing regime in Nicaragua.”
The bishops offered their “prayer to almighty God for that sister country and for all those who suffer in it, in a special way for Bishop Rolando Álvarez, that the Lord may assist him in his ordeal and give him strength in this time when he is being treated so unjustly.”
The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua sentenced Álvarez, the bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa, to 26 years and four months in prison on Feb. 10, accusing him of being a “traitor to the homeland.”
The sentencing of the prelate, who was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship by the dictatorship, came just one day after the regime deported 222 political prisoners to the United States, including several priests and seminarians.
The Managua Court of Appeals had also ordered Álvarez to be deported, but according to Ortega, the bishop refused to board the plane that would have carried him to freedom unless he could first consult with the priests already on the plane and the Nicaraguan bishops.
Ortega called this request “absurd” and the court found the prelate in contempt for refusing deportation, although the agreement reached with the U.S. State Department stipulated that no one could be forced to leave the country.
Pope Francis offered prayers Sunday for Alvarez and the deportees.
“Irrational and unbridled hatred of the Nicaraguan dictatorship against Bishop Rolando Álvarez. They are vengeful against him,” wrote the exiled auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Báez, on Twitter.
“They have not withstood his moral greatness and his prophetic coherence. Rolando will be free, God will not abandon him. They are sinking every day into their fear and their evil,” Báez said.
The Spanish Bishops’ Conference (CEE) expressed in a Feb. 11 statement its pain over the “worrisome situation that is being experienced in Nicaragua” with the mass deportation of political prisoners and the sentencing of Álvarez.
“At this moment we join the sentiments of the bishops of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference who are suffering persecution by the country’s government for defending the freedom of Nicaraguans,” the Spanish prelates said.
The bishops of Spain also urged “the Nicaraguan authorities to listen to the voice of the people they serve, make their decisions in a spirit of service for the good of all, and release prisoners imprisoned for political reasons.”
“May Our Lady of Lourdes watch over their Church and their pastors in Nicaragua and may harmony and peace be restored to the country soon,” they concluded.
The Spanish government has offered the deportees Spanish citizenship.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.