‘We all need to do more’: House hearing demands action against Nicaraguan regime’s anti-Catholic persecution

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — A March 22 U.S. House hearing examined what it called the anti-Catholic persecution of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and called for action, just days after the Vatican announced the closure of its embassy in Nicaragua.

“Is the United States doing enough? asked Rep. Chris Smith, RN.J., a longtime Catholic lawmaker who chaired the House Foreign Affairs joint subcommittee meeting. “Are we doing enough in Congress? Is the president doing enough? Frankly, I’m worried.

“We all have to improve our game, we all have to do more and we have to do it immediately,” he said.

Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez de Matagalpa, a frequent critic of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, enters a Catholic church in Managua May 20, 2022. A Nicaraguan court sentenced Bishop Álvarez to more than 26 years in prison on February 10, 2023 for conspiracy and spreading false information. (Photo OSV News/Maynor Valenzuela, Reuters)

The Ortega regime persecuted the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, lawmakers said, targeting church leaders who criticized the government. Among them, Bishop Rolando Álvarez was sentenced in February to 26 years in prison the day after he refused to be deported to the United States along with more than 200 other Nicaraguan political prisoners. Pope Francis has publicly denounced the condemnation of Bishop Álvarez and the deportation of Nicaraguans from their homeland.

Ortega has persecuted political opponents, arresting seven potential presidential candidates ahead of his winning re-election in 2021, a race the United States and European countries considered rigged. His regime has also suppressed the registrations of nongovernmental groups, forced the closure of religious charities and educational projects, and suppressed independent media.

On March 18, the Vatican closed its nunciature in Nicaragua after Ortega’s government proposed suspending diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

Ortega also recently banned traditional public processions for the Stations of the Cross and Easter, limiting Catholic activities inside churches as part of his retaliation against church officials who allegedly harbored protesters against his rule.

Smith said there must be a “clear message to the world” that the United States “stands with courageous Nicaraguans who are committed to democracy and respect for internationally recognized human rights.”

“We are inspired by the incredible faith and bravery of those like Bishop Álvarez who resist tyranny, and we will work to hold President Ortega and his cronies accountable for these heinous acts,” he said. he declares.

Rep. María Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., who chairs the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, agreed with Smith that the church is “under siege” in Nicaragua, saying Ortega “systematically hunts down and silences the “Nicaragua’s holiest sovereign institution”. citing acts of violence and destruction.

“He expelled 18 of Mother Teresa’s nuns,” Salazar said. “Holy women who worked in the most dangerous areas of Nicaragua.”

Ortega expelled two orders of nuns, including the Missionaries of Charity of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, last year.

In comments to OSV News, Smith cited sanctions or action by the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body within the United Nations, among the steps the United States should take in response to Ortega’s actions. .

“Shame on us if in free parts of the world like the United States of America, we don’t use all the levers – economic, political, diplomatic – all the pressure we could exert,” he said. .

Smith also praised Pope Francis for speaking out against Bishop Álvarez’s conviction. He added that the pressure on Ortega must “keep up”.

“People rally around a leader who keeps walking into the wind, who doesn’t bow to the wind,” Smith said. “(Pope Francis) must continue and I hope he will.”

Video of the Joint House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on the Ortega regime is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgHaq9082b8.

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