The bishops of Nicaragua lived on Monday in Diriamba what Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes himself described as “something never before seen in the country.”
The bishops arrived in the city with the intention of freeing a group of people who were inside the San Sebastián Basilica, but were met with punches, insults, and expressions of hatred by pro-government mobs and hooded armed civilians, referred to as ‘orteguistas’.
Since Sunday, the cities of Diriamba and Jinotepe, in Carazo, are under the control of police and para-police forces, after an operation with combat rifles to eliminate the tranques (barricades), leaving at least 18 dead and dozens of injured.
Monday morning, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and his auxiliary bishop, Monsignor Silvio José Báez, decided to visit Carazo to show solidarity with the people affected, to try to stop the siege and negotiate the release of the detainees. Both were accompanied by priests from the Archdiocese of Managua and the apostolic nuncio in Nicaragua, Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.
Momentos en que los miembros Conferencia Episcopal de Nicaragua llega a la Basilica de Diriamba y son asediados y agradedidos los Obispos por parte de un grupo de sandinistas. Como ya sabemos varios de los sacerdotes fueron golpeados al igual de algunos periódistas. #SOSNicaragua pic.twitter.com/1OUIAbLA9Q
— TrincheraDeLaNoticia (@LaTrincheraNic) July 9, 2018
When they arrived in Diriamba, they were targets of attack. From the sector of Las Esquinas, four kilometers before the entrance to the city, groups of supporters of the government of President Daniel Ortega were waiting for them carrying red and black flags and shouted: “Assassins”, “coup plotters”, “pedophiles” and other expletives. They also shouted, “we want peace”.
The bishops tried to enter the Basilica through the main door, but it was impossible. A mob of women and men, hooded and civilians, threw punches at them, pushed them and insulted them incessantly. The siege and aggression continued as the bishops tried to enter through the back door.
On the south side of Diriamba central park, officers of the National Police on board a mobile unit observed the aggression against the bishops but never intervened or came to their defense.
A group of residents tried to help the bishops but were prevented by the mob.
When the bishops entered the Basilica, the mobs surrounded the building carrying flags of the Sandinista Front. Five minutes later the mobs entered by force.
Nine people who were in charge of an improvised medical post in the Basilica to care for the wounded in the attacks had been trapped in the Basilica since Sunday, surrounded by mobs.
In the interior and in the outskirts of the Basilica there were moments of chaos. Journalists, representatives of human rights organizations, bishops and members of the diplomatic corps, such as Monsignor Andrea Piccioni, business manager of the Apostolic Nunciature in Nicaragua, received blows.
Cardinal Brenes, Monsignor Stanislaw and Monsignor Baez tried to leave the temple escorted by a group of priests who received punches and blows with motorcycle helmets.
Monsignor Silvio José Báez was one of the most offended and attacked. He was wounded with a knife to his right arm, he was punched in the stomach and his episcopal insignia was taken from him.
Asediado por una turba enardecida que quería ingresar a la Basílica San Sebastián en Diriamba, fui herido, golpeado en el estómago, me arrebataron las insignias episcopales y agredido verbalmente. Estoy bien gracias a Dios. Se liberó la basílica y a quienes allí estaban. pic.twitter.com/9qTgugBjic
— Silvio José Báez (@silviojbaez) July 9, 2018
Monseñor Miguel Mántica and Father Edwin Román, from Masaya, were brutally attacked when they were guarding Baez’s departure with other priests. Mántica had his cell phone stolen.
On leaving the Basilica, Brenes decided that everyone should return to Managua. From Diriamba they were guarded by police to El Crucero. Monsignor Rolando Álvarez was waiting for them there. Upon arriving at the Cathedral of Managua, everyone went straight to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, knelt down, prayed, sang and wept.
“We have felt the brutal force against our priests. We have gone to the parishes to console our priests, to accompany them in suffering and we have faced aggression. Lord, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing,” lamented Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes.
Monsignor Báez said: “We fulfilled our mission to free the people who were trapped in the Basilica of San Sebastian. What happened to me is nothing compared to what the people have suffered. ”
“Through violence everything is heading towards a dead end,” he added.
In a homily Sunday, Brenes called on the president to end forceful clearings of roadblocks, saying it would only “bring more pain” and “this situation is being placed on your shoulders.”
Baez said Catholic authorities, who have been mediatiors and witness to the national dialogue – the on-and-off talks to bring a resolution to the crisis – would evaluate whether they could resume this week after Ortega ruled out early elections.
The government “will be the responsible ones if the dialogue is broken off for not having wanted to involve a peaceful exit to this national crisis which they themselves have provoked,” the auxiliary bishop said Sunday, “and history will judge them as intransigent, lying and arrogant.”