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Opposition activists hold hunger strikes in Nicaraguan churches

Managua, Nicaragua, Nov 20, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Pro-government forces in Nicaragua have ended a siege of the Managua cathedral as mothers holding a hunger strike there were evacuated, though a similar hunger strike at a parish church in Masaya is continuing.

The hunger strikers in both churches – Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Managua and San Miguel in Masaya – have been calling for the release of their relatives, whom they believe to be political prisoners.

Anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April 2018. They have resulted in more than 320 deaths.

Seven mothers entered Managua's Immaculate Conception Cathedral Nov. 18, and they were soon followed by the mob of government supporters. The mothers removed themselves to another part of the cathedral.

Msgr. Carlos Avilés, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Managua, stated that “there are a number of unjustly detained political prisoners in the country. Their mothers desperately tried to enter the cathedral to pray … then the government with the police helping them, let in a mob of government supporters backed by the police to violate the cathedral.”

The archdiocese said that “violent groups related to the government entered and took control of the Managua Metropolitan Cathedral. When reprimanded by Fr. Rodolfo López and Sister Arelys Guzmán, these people responded with violence, beating the priest and sister who are okay but who had to leave the church to protect themselves.”

The archdiocese also said that the pro-government forces “broke the padlocks of the bell tower and other padlocks, thus desecrating our Metropolitan Cathedral” during the night.

The mothers took shelter in the cathedral overnight, and were then evacuated Nov. 19 in a Red Cross ambulance, as part of a deal negotiated by Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag, apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua.

The pro-government forces lifted their blockade of the cathedral shortly thereafter.

The archdiocese condemned “the acts of desecration, siege, and intimidation, which do not contribute to the peace and stability of the country.”

The Managua archdiocese also asked president Daniel Ortega to “take immediate action that all our Catholic churches are respected and likewise that the National Police pull back their troops that are besieging and intimidating the cathedral and our parishes.”

Other churches in the country have been encircled by police in an effort to keep the demonstrations from spreading.

In Masaya,  fewer than 20 miles southeast of Managua, a group of women began a hunger strike in  San Miguel parish Nov. 13 or 14.

Authorities cut off electricity and water to the church and the National Police have surrounded the building, threatening to enter by force to end the demonstration.

Thirteen people who tried to bring water to the demonstrators Nov. 14 were arrested. They were charged Nov. 18 with weapons transport. Police say the 13 people were carrying guns and bombs, and that they meant to “continue carrying out terrorist acts ... against police buildings, city halls and monuments.”

A group of priests tried to enter San Miguel church Nov. 15, but police held them back.

Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua has condemned the National Police's “siege and intimidation” of the hunger strikers in Masaya and their pastor, Fr. Edwin Román.

He called on the national police “to respect the free movement to demonstrate ... and the exercise of religious freedom.”

The Nicaraguan bishops' conference expressed “profound concern” Nov. 19 over the “indifference of the state for the rights of Nicaraguans who are expressing their sorrow and their needs.”

The bishops called on “those responsible for these sieges to change their stance. Nicaraguans have suffered too much pain. The besieged families suffer doubly: the lack of freedom for their incarcerated family members and, now, the state of siege that threatens their lives. We call on the government to hear their petitions which are at the same time their rights.”

Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua's vice president and Ortega's wife, criticized “those who claim to speak in the name of the faith,” calling them “repugnant wolves who spread hatred.”

Nicaragua’s crisis began last year after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega’s authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church had suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held this year, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

For pregnant women in Cuba, Project Hope offers alternative to abortion

Havana, Cuba, Nov 19, 2019 / 01:34 pm (CNA).- With much of Cuban society today losing a sense of the value of human life, a Polish nun on the island says she has created an initiative to offer practical help and support to women facing difficult pregnancies.

Sister Filipa Bak of the Congregation of the Mother of God of Mercy, told EWTN News that she founded “Project Hope” with a dual purpose: to support pregnant mothers in need and to “help women who have had an abortion to find the forgiveness of God who is rich in mercy.”

These women “often find themselves in difficult situations, they're losing their family, their partner,” she said. “The project aims to bring hope to women who have no way out, who don't see the way out of these difficult situations.”

Pregnant women who come to Project Hope are assigned an aid who accompanies them with support and resources during the pregnancy and for one year after the baby is born. Each mom also receives a basket with clothing and other newborn necessities, which are collected through donations.

In three years of operation, Bak said the initiative has saved more than 90 lives.

They also work with moms to ensure their babies are baptized, “to become a child of God, to become a true member of the Kingdom of God that we have here on earth,” which is one of the project's goals.

Bak said the project also interacts “with today's young people who have lost the value of life,” hoping to help them regain an appreciation for the sanctity of all human life.


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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Church in Mexico hails election of Archbishop Gomez as USCCB president

Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico, Nov 14, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Alfonso Gerardo Miranda Guardiola, auxiliary bishop of Monterrey, has welcomed the election of Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as president of the US bishops' conference, calling it an “eloquent sign” for migrants.

Archbishop Gomez was elected president of the USCCB Nov. 12 during the US bishops' plenary assembly.
Bishop Miranda, the secretary general of the Mexican bishops' conference, told ACI Prensa that on communicating Gomez' election to the Mexican bishops, “the reaction was one of applause, joy and emotion on receiving the news about Archbishop José Gomez as president of the American bishops' conference. Afterwards bishops even came up to me and told me they were very happy with this news.”

The Mexican bishops are holding their plenary assembly Nov. 11-14 in Cuautitlán Izcalli.

Bishop Miranda said that “the entire conference rejoiced with this distinction given to a compatriot, a brother, and in my case, someone from my hometown."

The Mexican prelate highlighted that the relationship between the Mexican bishops' conference and Archbishop Gomez “has been extremely close.”

He also noted that Archbishop Gomez has helped the Church in Mexico with the organization of the First National Meeting on the Protection of Minors, to be held in March 2020.

Bishop Miranda said the Mexican bishops “are very grateful for that,” and emphasized that the election of Archbishop Gomez “is a gesture, is a sign, in multiple ways, toward immigrants, toward Mexicans.”

“It's a distinction, a gesture … of the importance they are giving to the Hispanic community,” he said.

Gomez, 67, is the first Latino to lead the US bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant at the conference helm.

He was ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1978, and in 2001 was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Denver. He was appointed Archbishop of San Antonio in 2004, and Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles in 2010, succeeding as ordinary the following year.

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Chilean churches looted during protests

Santiago, Chile, Nov 12, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- Several churches across Chile have been attacked and looted amid anti-government protests in the country.

The demonstrations began in mid-October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares.
Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

Protesters broke into Santiago's La Asuncion parish Nov. 8, hauling out pews, confessionals, and statues – which they defaced – to build a barricade. They set the barricade on fire before clashing with police, and sprayed anti-Catholic graffiti on the walls, pillars, and altar of the church.

The next day, the Chilean bishops said that “with many Chileans we are radically opposed to injustice and to violence, we condemn them in all their forms and we hope that the tribunals will identify those responsible and sanction them.”

“The violent protesters only prevent us from looking with due attention to the just claims of the majority of the Chilean people who yearn for real and peaceful solutions … the people are not only tired of injustice, of also of violence, and the great majority hope for dialogue with respect to the reconstruction of the social fabric.”

On Nov. 10, attackers in Talca forced open the doors of the Mary Help of Christians shrine, where they destroyed religious  images and then carried them into the streets along with the church's pews to set them on fire and erect barricades. Before the Carabineros de Chile arrived at the scene, the attackers desecrated the tabernacle.

At a Nov. 12 press conference, Fr. Pedro Pablo Cuello, director of the Salesian presence in Talca, said that “Chile needs to grow, needs to be reconciled, with peace, with justice and equity … This is a desecration of the very face of Jesus.”

Bishop Galo Fernández Villaseca, auxiliary bishop of Santiago and apostolic administrator of Talca, said he was “impacted and moved by the violence one is experiencing which is intensifying  in the country and among us. These are not just material damages, it's an attitude of discord and which attacks the deepest sentiments of a person, our religious sentiments. The desecration of the Blessed Sacrament hurts us deeply.”

“It hurts me that the soul of Chile is wounded, is incapable of dialogue, that the soul of Chile claiming legitimate things that we share to a great extent, is walking down a path that is counterproductive,” Bishop  Fernández said.

He encouraged the practice of “peace, dialogue, to value what is true in the different person and to walk down a path that means progress for all women and men in Chile.”

The Salesian community in turn asked that Chileans “seek peace and the ways of understanding and dialogue … convinced that the great challenge of every society is to achieve a good integration in which all people have a decent life, especially the elderly and children.”

“It's a matter of respecting one another, of working together. We all want to build a new Chile, a Chile truly just and solidary and we will continue working according to our responsibilities as priests and as a Salesian School,” they said.

Bishop Fernández said a Mass of reparation in the church Nov. 12.

Also on Nov. 10, a mob attacked Our Lady of the Angels parish in Viña del Mar, immediately northeast of Valparaiso.

The attackers pulled out statues of Saint Expeditus and Saint Teresa of the Andes from their glass enclosures and destroyed them. They also destroyed some stained glass windows and other windows, sprayed graffiti, and tried to enter the church.  

“This violent action hurts us deeply since the Shrine of Saint Expeditus has always been a refuge for those who suffer and need a place of peace and hope. Not only has a sacred image been broken, but also the home has been violated that welcomes thousands of pilgrims who with faith give over their yearnings and hopes,” the parish said.

Along with expressing their support for the legitimate demands of society, the parish condemned the vandalism and violence and said it is “time for a true constructive dialogue and to seek paths of unity for all of us who live in this land.”

In recent days, the Cathedral of St. James in Valparaiso and Saint Teresa of the Andes parish in Punta Arenas have also been attacked.

More than 20 people have been killed in the protests. Many of the protests are peaceful, but some have included looting and arson, and attacks on public and private property, national heritage buildings, and churches. More than 7,000 demonstrators have been arrested.

President Sebastian Pinera replaced several cabinet ministers last month, but it did not sate the protesters.

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