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Nicaragua, paramilitary groups regain control of Masaya. Fr Gutiérrez: “Violent repression, but the Church stands with the people”

Father César Augusto Gutiérrez, a Salesian priest who lives in St. John Bosco College, entrusted with the pastoral ministry of St. Sebastian’s Church, the most central church in Masaya, reported the recent developments to SIR: “The city is heavily militarized, the barricades have been removed, but the special police forces storm into private homes seeking young members of the resistance movement. Reportedly, four were left dead after the clashes of July 17, including a police officer. Many people were left wounded, high numbers were brought to prison. Many have fled”

The day that followed the attack of the paramilitary groups was perhaps the saddest day in the history of Masaya, a joyful city by nature, one of the most beautiful in Nicaragua, the cradle of folklore and handmade local products against the backdrop of a fairytale countryside, between the lake and the volcano. It’s perhaps the most characteristic tourist destination of the Country in times of peace. It is also a proud city, 39 years ago it was the hotbed of the revolt against dictator Anastasio Somoza and the outpost of non-violent resistance to the regime of Daniel Ortega in the last three months, concentrated in the Monimbo district. It was a sad day, and violence seems unending. The streets are empty. A surreal silence and the terror imposed by special forces that dismantled the barricades raised in recent weeks by the population in Monimbo, prevail. But the manhunt continues, from home to home, seeking to flush out the resistance leaders.

The manhunt continues. Father César Augusto Gutiérrez, a Salesian priest who lives in St. John Bosco College, entrusted with the pastoral ministry of St. Sebastian’s Church, the most central church in Masaya, reported the recent developments to SIR: “The city is heavily militarized, the barricades have been removed, but the special police forces storm into private homes seeking young members of the resistance movement. Reportedly, four were left dead after the clashes of July 17, including a police officer. Many people were left wounded, high numbers were brought to prison. Many have fled.”

With a broken voice Father Augusto recalled the events of a few hours earlier: “It was a day of violent attacks carried out with heavy weapons.”

Resisting is impossible even for the proud people of Masaya: “They are peaceful people, and they’re not used to heavy fighting, they reacted by throwing stones, or home home-made mortars.” A month ago the special forces’ attack was stopped by the bishops: by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, archbishop of Managua; by his auxiliary bishop Mons. Silvio José Báez, native of Masaya; by the apostolic nuncio, Mons. Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. As soon as they heard about the attack they hurriedly reached Masaya, some 35 km from the capital city. They made their way through the procession, with the Blessed Sacrament, and they managed to stop the special forces. The image circulated worldwide. This time the government forces conducted a large scale operation: one-thousand, armed to the teeth, stormed in at six a.m. They had clear orders: Monimbo had to be won back before July 19, a National holiday marking the 39th anniversary of Somoza’s defeat. “But the dictatorship we are living today is even worse”, pointed out Fr Gutiérrez.

Thwarted attack on a church. The Salesian priest recalled another recurring feature of the attacks of the past days, which ever more often are carried out against churches. “It happened also on July 17, gunfire was shot against some churches, they wanted to storm into San Juan Bautista Church, but they failed thanks a popular upheaval.” And now? “It’s a critical situation – added Fr Gutiérrez – Government and Police are against the people who continue demanding justice and democracy, in a non-violent way. And

The Church stands with the people, we are shepherds. Our bishops have acted with courage.

If the Government thinks that by attacking the Church we will lose all hope and the will to combat, it is entirely mistaken. They removed the barricades but not people’s heart. We believe in the justice of God and that days of peace will come.”

Young people, a moral reservoir. Signs of hope are seen especially in the young: “They displayed great willpower. As Msgr Báez said, they are the moral reservoir of our homeland. They played a crucial role in the wake-up call of our people.” Finally, the priest voiced his appeal to the international community: “There is need for great pressure to put an end to the violence. I call upon all Italian people to pray for us, for our people.”

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