Addressing the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., under the cloak of anonymity, a Nicaraguan priest described how the regime of President Daniel Ortega “arrested, insulted, beaten, (and) imprisoned” him.
The International Religious Freedom Summit is an annual two-day event that opened on Tuesday, January 30, this year. It is sponsored by more than 75 organizations that promote religious freedom from various religions, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Yazidis, among others. This event includes participants from around the world.
“If I’m here, it’s not because I wanted to fly to Washington to enjoy three days off with paid travel,” the priest told the crowd present at the summit from backstage, using a voice changer to alter the sound of his voice.
“No, I have done so while knowing that the lives of my family, of my loved ones, are in danger in Nicaragua, that in front of my family’s house there is a Sandinista Police patrol watching every movement, 24 hours a day,” he said.
“If I have agreed to come, even exposing them to any reprisals or revenge of the dictatorship, it is for two reasons: because I believe that there is a God who cares for us and because if we Christians, who believe in democracy, in freedom, in social justice, do nothing, no one else will,” the priest said.
This anonymous priest is one of dozens of clergymen who have been arrested amid Daniel Ortega’s persecution of Catholic clergy, nuns, schools, and even media outlets. In 2023, the government reportedly held at least 46 members of the Catholic clergy in custody, including two bishops and four seminarians, many of whom were forcefully expelled from the country.
Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship has expelled religious sisters from the country, such as the Missionaries of Charity, and has also forcefully shut down Catholic schools and Catholic media organizations. The government has reportedly forced thousands of nongovernmental organizations to dissolve since 2018, including several Catholic organizations. Nicaragua has also formally severed its relations with the Holy See.
“Religious persecution reaches such a point that every Sunday, patrol cars full of police are parked in front of the country’s Catholic churches,” the anonymous priest said.
The priest described the regime’s persecution of the Catholic Church and attempts to intimidate the faithful.
“It is common knowledge in Nicaragua that one by one, the faithful who attend the Eucharist on Sundays are photographed; that all the homilies delivered by the remaining priests are being recorded; that the bombardment through all the social media is constant, in a smear campaign, orchestrated by the government against the Church and its ministers; that there is not a single penny for our social works, construction, payment of personnel, or other activities, because Caritas Nicaragua, and all the bank accounts of our parishes, were frozen by the government.”
He also said that Ortega’s regime has made the Catholic Church “a scapegoat to blame for all its errors and for the generalized opposition of Nicaraguans” to its policies, which he said has led to “the ever-increasing impoverishment of the nation.”
The anonymous priest said that despite the persecution, “the Church still brings together almost 80% of Nicaraguans who see in her, through the liberating word of Christ, a consolation and a hope” amid these hardships.
“I pray to the Lord that the voice of this summit on human rights and religious freedom be raised and heard by Christians around the world, so that they may put pressure on their governments and deny financing that, far from serving the health and well-being of Nicaraguans, keep an illegitimate government that murders its own people in power,” he added.