Bishop Alvarez (C: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Bishop Ronaldo Álvarez sentenced to 26 years in prison in Nicaragua, has citizenship stripped

A Nicaraguan Catholic Bishop has been sentenced to decades in prison, and has had his citizenship removed after he was charged with being a “traitor to the homeland”.

The cleric and sharp critic of Nicaragua’s president, dictator Daniel Ortega, has begun his sentence – after he declined to be expelled to the United States in an effort to stay with persecuted Catholics in Nicaragua.

Gript reported earlier this month on the escalating persecution of Catholics in the central American nation, which saw the country pushed into the top 50 on the World Watch List for Christian persecution for the first time.

Álvarez has been one of the most vocal critics of the dictatorial regime of Daniel Ortega, who has ruled Nicaragua for more than 15 years after being reelected in 2007. 

Bishop Álvarez played an important role in mediation efforts between the Nicaraguan government and protesters in 2018 following intense civil unrest – calling for the removal of Ortega – and which claimed the lives of more than 360 people. However, due to his role in the mediation efforts, he has been accused by the country’s president of trying to overthrow him.

Having been under house arrest since August 2022, Alvarez refused to be banished from his native country, and was sentenced to the lengthy prison term for “treason against the homeland”. He was also found guilty of “undermining national integrity” and the propagation of “false news”. According to the sentence, Álvarez must be imprisoned until April 13, 2049.

The Bishop refused to leave the country, which has seen a mass exile of priests, along with the Missionaries of Charity, the Catholic order of nuns founded by Mother Teresa. The apostolic nuncio was also ordered to leave the county, and Catholic news organisations have been forced to shut amidst an onslaught from Ortega’s government.

The sentence against Álvarez came on Friday, just one day after the dictatorship deported 222 political prisoners, including four priests, to the United States. In a speech, President Ortega said himself that the Bishop refused to get on a plane with the deportees. 

Álvarez decided to stay to accompany the Catholics who are suffering the repression of the dictatorship in Nicaragua, Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported.

In a statement released on Friday following the deportation of the Nicaraguan political prisoners, Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations Subcommittee of the United States House of Representatives, said: “We must continue to work to combat the brutal Ortega regime and free the remaining prisoners — including courageous Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who refuses to abandon his flock.” 

The congressman appealed to Pope Francis in his comments, adding: “He is truly a Christ-like figure with a servant’s heart, and we continue to urge Pope Francis to speak unequivocally on his behalf and seek his release”.

Pope Francis said he was “saddened” by the news, as he expressed concern over the situation in Nicaragua.

“I have been very saddened by the news that comes from Nicaragua and I cannot help but remember here with concern the Bishop of Matagalpa, Msgr. Rolando Álvarez, whom I love so much, sentenced to 26 years in prison, and also the people who were deported in the United States,” he said following the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.

The Pope prayed for Mary’s intercession to open the hearts of the “responsible politicians and all citizens” to the pursuit of peace, which he said can be achieved through the “patient exercise of dialogue.”

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