Nicaragua cracks down on church during Holy Week

CUERNAVACA, Mexico (OSV News) -- Catholics turned out in large numbers to celebrate Holy Week in Nicaragua. But the ruling Sandinista regime prohibited public exhibitions of faith -- such as processions and reenactments of the passion of Christ -- as it continued exercising control over religious activities in what’s becoming an increasingly totalitarian country.

Processions occurred within church atriums and sanctuaries as police and paramilitaries monitored activities outside and even were captured filming events, according to social media accounts. Some 30 police officers corralled attendees at the Managua cathedral on Good Friday, March 29, independent news outlet Confidencial reported, ensuring that nothing occurred outside of church property.

Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan lawyer in exile who documents church repression, calculated some 4,000 police were deployed during Holy Week and an estimated 4,800 processions were canceled. She posted a video on X of three students being arrested for simply carrying the image of a saint.

"Palm Sunday with police and paramilitaries inside and outside of parishes. They're filming and photographing laity. A Sunday under extreme siege," she posted March 24.

"Jesus was also a victim of mobs, who violently seized him with clubs and swords," Father Edwing Román, an exiled Nicaraguan priest, posted the same day.

Holy Week marked the second consecutive year the regime has prohibited processions and limited activities to church premises. A source in Nicaragua told OSV News that priests watch their words during Mass and report being spied upon by police and paramilitaries.

The regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, has cracked down on all of forms of dissent -- and portrayed the Catholic Church as an enemy for its attempts at finding a political solution to 2018 protests calling for Ortega's ouster and subsequent work with the families of political prisoners.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who regularly denounced the regime’s excesses, was imprisoned for 500 days and exiled to the Vatican in January along with another prelate, Bishop Isidoro Mora of Siuna, and 17 other churchmen.

The regime has subsequently moderated its public discourse toward the church, according to observers, after blasting church leaders as "terrorists" and "coup mongers."

Evangelical pastors have also come under persecution in Nicaragua. Eleven pastors affiliated with Nicaraguan Mountain Gateway ministries were convicted on money laundering charges, the organization said in a March 28 statement.

The pastors received sentences of between 12 and 15 years in prison and each was fined $80 million. Three U.S. missionaries also were charged, but were not in Nicaragua at the time of the other pastors' arrests in December 2023, Nicaraguan Mountain Gateway said.

- - - David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City.