17 January 2024, The Tablet

Álvarez lands in Rome after Vatican negotiates release

The Nicaraguan government praised Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, for their “very respectful and discreet co-ordination”.

Álvarez lands in Rome after Vatican negotiates release

A poster showing Bishop Rolando Álvarez with Pope Francis in Matagalpa Cathedral.
Associated Press / Alamy

At dawn on Sunday, Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa was released from a Nicaraguan prison and flown to Rome.

The Vatican had been in negotiations with President Daniel Ortega’s regime since last July, and secured Álvarez’s freedom after more than 500 days in prison

The regime issued a statement on Sunday confirming that Álvarez, 15 clergy and two seminarians had boarded a flight to Rome.

It praised Pope Francis and the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, for their “very respectful and discreet co-ordination”.

Bishop Isidoro Mora of Siuna, who was arrested in December after telling a congregation that Nicaragua’s bishops were “united in prayer” for Bishop Álvarez, was among the clergy on the the Rome-bound flight, which landed on Monday, 14 January.

Álvarez and Mora were pictured in together Rome this week concelebrating Mass.

On Sunday morning Bishop Silvio Báez, an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Managua living in exile in the US, welcomed the news of Álvarez’s release after Mass at St Agatha’s Church, in Miami.

“The criminal dictatorship of Daniel Ortega has not prevailed against the power of God,” he said.

In February 2023, Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison on treason charges, shortly after he had refused to board a flight bearing 220 political prisoners from Nicaragua to the US. The conditions for his release were not fully explained to Álvarez, who also refused to sign a blank sheet of paper out of fear this could be used as a confession.

A CID Gallup poll found that 70 per cent of Nicaraguans opposed the bishop’s sentence, and there was mounting public concern about his health. On 2 January, the government published photographs of Álvarez receiving a medical check-up in prison after the US government had demanded his immediate release.

Approximately 110 priests have been exiled from Nicaragua since 2018, leaving the Church there short of priests.  The US-based news site The Pillar reported that in Álvarez’s Diocese of Matagalpa there are now only 20 priests, down from 51 in 2019.

Nine priests were ordained for the Archdiocese of Managua on the feast of the Epiphany. One seminarian, speaking anonymously, told the Spanish weekly Alfa y Omega: “The faith in Nicaragua is alive and holding up.”

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