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Pope ‘concerned’ after Nicaraguan bishop’s arrest

#Pope #concerned #Nicaraguan #bishops #arrest

Pope Francis said Sunday he was “concerned” by rising tensions between the state and the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, two days after bishop and dissident Rolando Alvarez was arrested.

Francis said he is following the situation in Nicaragua “with concern and concern” amid a deepening standoff between the church and a government accused of rising authoritarianism.

“I would like to express my conviction and hope that through an open and sincere dialogue the basis for a respectful and peaceful coexistence can still be found,” said the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics after the Angelus prayer.

A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU was following the situation “with concern”.

She reiterated Brussels’ position that “Nicaraguans must find a peaceful and democratic solution to their political crisis through dialogue.”

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has come under increasing government pressure since a crackdown on opposition protests in 2018 that left hundreds dead.

President Daniel Ortega claims the protests were part of a Washington-backed opposition plan to oust him and accuses the bishops of complicity.

The Vatican said Nicaragua expelled its ambassador from the country in March.

– “Taken by force” –

Alvarez was arrested on Friday for “destabilizing and provocative” activities aimed at destabilizing the Central American country.

His detention was followed by a two-week police siege at his official residence in Matagalpa, central Nicaragua, after he criticized the closure of Church radio and news stations.

Supporters said Alvarez was “forced” to an undisclosed location, prompting the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) to voice their concerns.

According to the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM), eight others, including five priests who were hiding at Alvarez’s, were brought to Managua and investigated against all of them.

The church later said Alvarez was being held at his “family home,” where Cardinal Lepoldo Brenes was allowed to visit him.

Brenes reported that the bishop’s “physical condition has deteriorated” but his “spirit is strong,” the Archdiocese of Managua said in a statement.

The other eight were being held in El Chipote prison, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh). El Chipote is a notorious prison for government critics.

Last week, the Cenidh said another Nicaraguan priest, Oscar Benavidez, was “removed from his vehicle and taken to an undisclosed location in a patrol car.”

According to the European Union, there are more than 180 “political prisoners” in Nicaragua.

In the first half of 2022, the Bloc said Nicaraguan authorities shut down over 1,200 civil society organizations.

Earlier this month, Borrell’s office called for the release of Nicaragua’s political prisoners and condemned the government’s crackdown on opposition figures.

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