In yet another move in his war against the Catholic Church, the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, has banned all public processions during the Lenten season, including the traditional Lenten Procession and Stations of the Cross. Many fear that Ortega may also ban this year’s coming Easter Procession as well.
This move comes after President Ortega gave a speech last week demoralizing the Catholic Church, in which he claimed the Church is a “mafia organization” and accused the Vatican of “grave crimes and horrors.”
“I don’t believe in popes or kings; who chooses the Pope?” Ortega said during his speech. “If we want to talk about democracy, the people should first elect priests and the bishops, and even the Pope should be elected by direct vote and not by the organized mafia in the Vatican.”
This address comes in the wake of Pope Francis’ prayer for those in Nicaragua during his Angelus Prayer on February 12. Saying to the crowd: “[I pray] for those who have been deported to the United States and for all those who suffer in the beloved nation of Nicaragua.” This kind of crackdown on Catholic activities is preferably avoided by South American leaders, as Catholicism is the dominant religion on the continent, with Nicaragua having over 55% of its population registered as practicing Catholics in 2010. As a result, the Vatican’s influence has had far-reaching consequences in South America, which many revolutionary governments have sought to suppress, as was quite common during the 1960s and 70s in Latin America.
Ortega has used national security laws to imprison and coerce many of his opponents, including journalists and human rights advocates. Reporters Without Borders, a press advocacy group, has claimed Nicaragua has “practically no independent media.”
The Nicaraguan President has been relentless in silencing voices of opposition, which has included the imprisonment and later deportation of 222 Nicaraguan citizens to the United States, as well as the imprisonment of Bishop Alvarez in August of last year, who was charged with inciting violence, treason, and undermining national integrity.
Bishop Alvarez as well as seven other priests and seminarians were arrested after a 16-day siege by police in August last year. The Bishop, who had been critical of the government, was arrested for “destabilizing and provocative” activities in the country. Police state that the Bishop came under investigation after questioning the closure of Catholic radio stations.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights claims the Bishop’s life is in danger and has called for his immediate release, claiming he is “unjustly detained.” They claim further that there has been no news of the Bishop since, and even family visits have been refused by the state.