VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Twelve Catholic priests found refuge this week at the Vatican after being imprisoned by Daniel Ortega’s communist regime in Nicaragua for opposing his religious persecution.
The release of the imprisoned priests was announced by the Nicaraguan government in a press release of October 18. The bitterly anti-Catholic regime said the priests had been released and sent to the Vatican “after fruitful conversations with the Holy See,” and that they “traveled to Rome, Italy, this afternoon.”
According to the statement of the government, the freeing of the priests – who were arrested for opposing the religious oppression and criminal atrocities of the Ortega regime – was accomplished “with the intercession of high authorities of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and the Vatican.”
On October 19, Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, gave the following statement on the matter to journalists:
I can confirm that the Holy See has been asked to receive 12 priests from Nicaragua, recently released from prison. The Holy See has accepted, and they will be received by an official of the Secretariat of State in the afternoon and accommodated in some facilities of the diocese of Rome.
The released priests are: 1) Fathers Manuel Salvador García Rodríguez, 2) José Leonardo Urbina Rodríguez, 3) Jaime Iván Montesinos Sauceda, 4) Fernando Israel Zamora Silva, 5) Osman José Amador Guillén, 6) Julio Ricardo Norori Jiménez, 7) José Iván Centeno Tercero, 8) Yessner Cipriano Pineda Meneses, 9) Álvaro José Toledo Amador, 10) Eugenio Rodríguez Benavidez, 11) Father Cristóbal Reynaldo Gadea Velásquez, and 12) Father Ramón Angulo Reyes.
Six of these priests were arrested within one week at the beginning of the month, and on Oct. 15, eight of them were incarcerated at El Chipote prison, known as a torture prison. Notably, seven priests were from dioceses under Bishop Rolando Álvarez, Matagalpa and Estelí.
Bishop Álvarez, perhaps the man most hated by the Ortega regime, remains behind bars after being convicted on trumped up charges of being “a traitor to the homeland” following his refusal to abandon his flock by leaving the country. The courageous bishop, an outspoken opponent of the atrocities and oppression of the Ortega regime, was sentenced in February to 26 years in prison.
Felix Maradiaga, a former presidential candidate arrested by Ortega in 2021 and now president of the Foundation for Nicaraguan Freedom, communicated his “deep joy for the release of the unjustly detained pastors,” reiterating, however, his “firm demand for the release of Bishop Rolando Alvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa and the numerous other political prisoners who remain in custody,” who reportedly now number around 80 persons.
In a March 2023 hearing before the U.S. Congress on the political and religious persecution in Nicaragua, Maradiaga detailed the systematic way in which the regime had set about removing all opposition to its oppression.
“The most recent victim of that plan is the Catholic Church of Nicaragua, which is the only institution that stood in his way,” he said. “Before, Ortega and his repression agencies had been persecuting, imprisoning, and extrajudicially killing peasants, students, and activists who seek to peacefully stop the dictatorship. The new phase of repression can only be defined as religious persecution.”
Offering details of the persecution, Maradiaga said that “on several occasions the Sandinista Police has forbidden parishioners from receiving the Eucharist inside the temple and does not allow religious celebration in the open, such as the recent prohibition of the ‘Via Crucis.’”
Ortega’s persecution against the Church has now been extended to include Catholic laity, with members of the faithful arrested and their homes raided. Some have been released after detainment, but on the condition they return weekly to police headquarters in their municipality for questioning and a check-in with the government. The UN has been alerted of the escalation of religious persecution in the country.