Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
J.P. Carroll | Erica LizzaApril 11, 2023
Catholic Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes leads a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross during the Lenten season at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua, on March 17, 2023. Catholics staged the devotional commemoration in the gardens of the cathedral due to the police ban on celebrating religious festivities on the streets. (AP Photo/Inti Ocon)Catholic Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes leads a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross during the Lenten season at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua, on March 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Inti Ocon)

Being Catholic in Nicaragua is dangerous. To show your faith in any way, whether through displaying religious images or being seen with clergy, is to single yourself out for likely punishment and a dark, uncertain fate.

The regime of President Daniel Ortega has shut down a major Catholic charity (Caritas Nicaragua), expelled the Missionaries of Charity (the order of religious sisters founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata), and deported or imprisoned Catholic clergy, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa. This year the regime has also dissolved John Paul II University and banned public processions of the Way of the Cross. And the Nicaraguan government has proposed a suspension of diplomatic ties with the Holy See, which has since resulted in the Holy See closing its embassy in Managua.

As the Ortega regime seeks to effectively criminalize Catholicism, U.S. Catholics must open their hearts to persecuted Nicaraguans fleeing to our country. We must support the moral leadership of Pope Francis as he condemns this barbarism, describing the Ortega regime a “gross dictatorship.”

As the Ortega regime seeks to effectively criminalize Catholicism, U.S. Catholics must open their hearts to persecuted Nicaraguans fleeing to our country.

For years, Nicaragua has been descending into authoritarianism, with not only religious leaders but also political opponents of Mr. Ortega subjected to imprisonment, torture and even extrajudicial executions. Ultimately, by disregarding and actively suppressing the moral witness of the church, Mr. Ortega’s Sandinista movement seems to have reached its ideological endpoint—elevating humankind above God.

While a great deal of coverage understandably focuses on secular political developments in Nicaragua, it is essential to acknowledge the spiritual crisis afflicting the country because of its leaders. Mr. Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, whom he installed as the nation’s vice president, are co-dictators, fundamentally guilty of the sin of pride, manifested both in their complete unwillingness to acknowledge limitations on human power and in their grotesque disregard for human dignity.

[Related: Pope Benedict XVI on the relationship between Christianity and politics]

As with Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, the Ortegas’ pride causes immense suffering for the more than six million people under their authority. And an exodus from this oppression has already begun. As early as 2021, over 150,000 Nicaraguans sought refuge and asylum in neighboring Costa Rica. A steady stream of refugees continues to escape into Costa Rica, where the expatriate Nicaraguan community lives in fear of retaliation against family and friends still vulnerable to the regime’s oppression. Another few thousand Nicaraguans have applied for asylum in Mexico and the United States.

As with Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, the Ortegas’ pride causes immense suffering for the more than six million people under their authority.

The Lenten season has reminded us of the importance of both humility and charity for living in right relationship with God and with our neighbor. Despite being the Son of God, Jesus Christ chose to humble himself and accept death, even death on a cross, for love of humankind. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated the ultimate example of humility, one that all Catholics are called to follow.

Humility is also essential to good governance. Pope Francis himself has emphasized as much to the Roman Curia, saying that its members must “be humble, not proud.”

Ultimately, it is a lack of humility that has prevented Mr. Ortega and Ms. Murillo from understanding that they are illegitimate rulers. It is pride that has prevented them from comprehending that their corruption has impoverished people whom they are obligated to serve. And it is pride that has led them to harm those they are called to protect.

But through the steadfastness of clergy such as Bishop Álvarez, and the courage of lay Catholics who have called for change, the church has borne witness to the injustice that consumes Nicaragua. The church attempts to sustain the Nicaraguan people in their hopes for a better future by continuing its work of worship, accompaniment and service, in the face of enormous challenges and restrictions.

How U.S. policy can help

While the Nicaraguan people need our prayers, they also need effective diplomacy and advocacy on their behalf by U.S. political leaders. The ties between the United States and Nicaragua run deep. Free trade flows between the two countries as a result of the United States’ broader regional Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, which includes Nicaragua among other countries of the region. Nicaragua has a trade surplus with the United States of approximately $2.5 billion, or about 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and that means the United States has economic leverage with the Ortega government that could result in diplomatic talks and policy changes in Nicaragua.

The bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees have called upon the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to cease providing development funding to the Ortega administration. Congress—along with the Biden administration—should consider imposing further sanctions on the Ortega regime if it continues to violate human rights. Congress could also consider cutting aid to the Nicaraguan government (which totaled more than $22.5 million in 2022) and instead sending funds to international humanitarian organizations that help Nicaraguan refugees.

As the largest and wealthiest country in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should also continue to accept Nicaraguan refugees. These refugees should also be welcomed by Catholics in the United States, where they can enjoy First Amendment rights, including freedom of religion.

Congress could consider cutting aid to the Nicaraguan government and instead sending funds to international humanitarian organizations that help refugees.

The mortal life has no purpose when separated from its spiritual end. Catholic institutions have been ripped apart in Nicaragua, and their rebuilding will require more than brick-and-mortar restoration. Catholics in the United States can do their part by calling their elected representatives regarding the situation in Nicaragua to make it clear that they want to see the United States do more to bring peace and dignity to Nicaraguans’ lives, whether by expanding sanctions against leaders of the Ortega regime or by granting asylum to more Nicaraguan refugees.

But ordinary Nicaraguans still need spiritual support from Catholics in the United States. U.S. Catholics can demonstrate solidarity with their Nicaraguan sisters and brothers through uniting our prayers to their prayers for peace and healing and by using our freedoms as Americans to call for justice. We should also make it clear to all that it is not safe to be a Catholic in Nicaragua as a result of the abuses of the Ortega regime, where Catholic charities are shuttered and members of the clergy are imprisoned.

This spring, let us pray and work for our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters so that, as the psalmist wrote, God may turn their “mourning into dancing.”

[Related, from 2022: “In Nicaragua, the Ortega regime steps up efforts to silence civil society—especially the Catholic Church”]

The latest from america

A Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, by Father Terrance Klein
Terrance KleinMay 29, 2024
As a gay priest, I was shocked and saddened by the Holy Father’s use of an offensive slur during a discussion with Italian bishops.
Growth, undeniable tensions and “a deep desire to rebuild and strengthen” the body of Christ have emerged as key themes in the latest synod report for the Catholic Church in the U.S.
“Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit, Who in the beginning transformed chaos into cosmos, is at work to bring about this transformation in every person,” Pope Francis said in his general audience today.
Pope FrancisMay 29, 2024