Nicaragua’s exiled clergy and devoted in Miami sustain wrestle for human rights at Mass

MIAMI — When the Rev. Silvio Báez completed his homily on a current Sunday, applause broke out among the many a whole lot of devoted in St. Agatha Catholic Church, on the outskirts of Miami, that has turn into the religious dwelling of the rising Nicaraguan diaspora.

For the auxiliary bishop of Managua, his fellow monks and plenty of worshippers who’ve fled or been exiled from Nicaragua just lately, the Sunday afternoon Mass is just not solely a option to discover solace in group. It’s additionally a method of pushing again towards the federal government’s violent suppression of critics, together with many Catholic leaders.

“For me, it’s the moment when I am closest to the people of Nicaragua. It’s like going back for an hour,” Báez informed The Associated Press after greeting an extended line of congregants exterior the vestry. “My constant message is, ‘Let’s not lose hope, let’s not get used to a situation that God doesn’t want.’”

Báez mentioned he left Nicaragua within the spring of 2019 solely as a result of Pope Francis informed him to, “to save my life – he said he didn’t want another Central American martyr bishop.”

But the pope has added, “don’t abandon your people,” Báez mentioned, and these Miami Masses, that are additionally livestreamed, have turn into his option to preach resilience.

His current homilies, primarily based on Jesus’ teachings about love of God and neighbor in addition to the significance of appearing out one’s values, have denounced “dictators who say they love God but oppress the people.” He has decried the hypocrisy of those that name themselves “the people’s president” solely to “nullify these very people, denying them fundamental liberties.”

“From Monday to Saturday we live through vicissitudes, problems, all sorts of things, and on Sunday with the homily it’s like a glass of water in the desert,” mentioned Donald Alvarenga as he arrived for Báez’s service.

Alvarenga hardly ever attended Mass in Nicaragua however doesn’t miss one right here since he was amongst greater than 200 Nicaraguans launched from detention, forcibly expelled to the United States in February and later stripped of citizenship by the federal government of President Daniel Ortega.

Ortega has had an uneven relationship with religion leaders for many years. His authorities, like another Latin American governments, traces its roots again to a socialist revolution that was opposed by Catholic hierarchy, although supported by some liberal clergy.

Since repressing well-liked protests in 2018 that referred to as for his resignation, Ortega’s authorities has systematically silenced opposing voices and zeroed in on the church, together with confiscating the distinguished Jesuit-run University of Central America in August.

Nicaragua’s congress, dominated by Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front, has ordered the closure of greater than 3,000 nongovernmental organizations, together with Mother Teresa’s charity.

“This is the last independent institution, the Catholic Church, that Ortega doesn’t have complete control over. It’s really trying to overtake the last institution that could be a threat to his legitimacy,” mentioned Michael Hendricks, a politics professor at Illinois State University and former Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua.

Repression even prolonged to barring many patron saint’s feasts and Easter processions in a rustic the place the Christian religion has huge cultural resonance, Hendricks added. An estimated 10% of the inhabitants has fled — greater than half 1,000,000 since 2018.

The strikes towards younger protesters and the church, the place school scholar Cinthya Benavides was lively in youth ministry, pushed her to depart Nicaragua – fleeing her home with solely her passport, telephone and laptop computer as police knocked on the entrance door.

“I had to come illegally. But my faith sustained me,” she mentioned at St. Agatha, the place she and two fellow members of the Nicaraguan University Alliance distributed flyers about church persecution.

Her personal parish priest was in jail for some time. Last month, Nicaragua launched a dozen Catholic monks jailed on quite a lot of expenses and despatched them to Rome following an settlement with the Vatican.

But Bishop Rolando Álvarez has remained in jail for greater than a 12 months and acquired a 26-year sentence after refusing to get on the February flight to the United States.

Báez opens every Mass with a prayer for Álvarez’s well being, power and “unconditional freedom.” The Rev. Edwing Román, who additionally celebrates Mass at St. Agatha, mentioned Álvarez’s detention in a notoriously harsh jail satisfied him returning to Nicaragua isn’t an possibility for now.

Román had come to the United States in 2021 for a brief journey to baptize a relative. But whereas right here, he was made conscious of threats he could be jailed if he returned to his parish church in Masaya, the place he had assisted injured protesters.

“It was a humanitarian ministry. I have no regrets,” Román mentioned. One night in the course of the 2018 protests, he heard cries and pictures exterior his rectory and, after opening the door in his pajamas, ended up spending hours washing off blood and teargas from injured youth.

With donations of gauze and different provides, he began a small dispensary in his parish, the place the our bodies of useless protesters had been additionally taken. That earned him accusations from authorities of being a “terrorist” intent on overthrowing the federal government, and police routinely detained him when he left the church, he mentioned.

To former political prisoner Carlos Valle, who was exiled in February, the brave ministry of monks like Román and Báez serves as a “spiritual guide.”

“We feel refuge with them, they’re exiled just like us,” mentioned Valle. Of his 12 kids, 11 have additionally fled Nicaragua – one stayed behind as a result of she works for the federal government.

Every week, newly arrived Nicaraguans knock on the parish door, needing assist with all the pieces from authorized immigration help to a spot to remain – an more and more powerful ask as a whole lot of 1000’s of exiles and migrants have strained Miami’s welcome.

“To help them, for me is an obligation,” mentioned St. Agatha’s pastor, the Rev. Marcos Somarriba, who himself got here a long time in the past as a teen. “I know what it’s like to go through this.”

Báez mentioned the church, along with providing sensible assist, can proceed advocating for human rights and for a special social and political means as a result of “there, nobody can say this.”

Many monks, nuns and different exiles fear about reprisal, particularly towards their households nonetheless in Nicaragua, and worry going public with their tales. But others really feel a duty to deliver consciousness and a way of hope.

“Even fear we have already lost,” mentioned Nestor Palma as he distributed flyers about exiled monks and political prisoners at St. Agatha. “That’s why we’re in this daily struggle, so that the light might not be lost.”

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