In less than fifteen days, Immigration authorities in Nicaragua denied entry to two Franciscans friars from El Salvador who had been living and fulfilling their priestly service in this country for years.
The incident took place while Immigration has summoned hundreds of foreign residents. It has limited or reduced the period of validity of their residency cards. The authorities did not explain the reasons to bar the Franciscans. However, one of the affected priests believes it relates to the denunciations of injustice and human rights violations made by the Catholic Church.
The control established by Immigration against resident foreigners includes priests and nuns who fulfill their missions here.
Monsignor Miguel Mantica, from the Archdiocese of Managua, told Confidencial that he knows of cases of priests who must present themselves every month before the authorities; many, he said, must travel from inland.
“Those who have had the most problems are the Franciscans, because they have blocked the entry of foreigners who work here,” added Mantica. He did not provide further details on the matter and omitted to refer to the reasons for the barring by Immigration.
Priest Lemus Aguilar, barred without justification
Jose Lemus Aguilar, parish priest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church of the Matagalpa diocese, was advised to apply for entry to Nicaragua, since on January 31 another friar from the same congregation was not allowed to enter the country. The first priest barred was friar Santos Fabian Mejia, in charge of the Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Juigalpa, Chontales.
Lemus said he doubted if it was necessary to do that formality, since his documents were in order. However, he finally decided to do so. Then the transportation company in which he would travel told him “they were informed that my name had restrictions on re-entry into the country.”
On February 8, the day on which he would travel, the priest returned to arrange his entry permit, but the answer was the same: he could not enter. There was no more justification for the migratory blockage, he noted.
In the search for answers, the priest turned to the Nicaraguan Embassy in San Salvador. However, they told him they had no information about it. Furthermore, they said they could not enter the Ministry of the Interior system either.
They argue that Franciscan friars “had gotten involved in politics”
Regarding the priest Santos Fabian, friar Lemus Aguilar recounted that it is known that an immigration officer told him that he “had gotten involved in politics, had violated the agreement of foreigners, that they should not get involved in anything.”
Lemus, however, alleges that the accusations are “things he never really did.” He had commented that during the popular uprising of 2018 the priests “were close to the people.” In his opinion, “we were not necessarily doing politics, but rather, we had the moral strength that was needed at that time. That was the reason,” alleged priest Lemus.
Monsignor Marcial Guzman, bishop of the diocese of Juigalpa, assures that Santos Fabian informed him that they did not allow him to enter and told him that he was not “fit” to be in the country. But he knows no more about the case. The affected priest of this dioceses desisted from giving statements.
Meanwhile, priest Lemus does not understand why this time he was not allowed to enter. On other trips he has not had difficulties. “I do not know what exactly the reason was,” he assures.
“Maybe because I was working in the dioceses of Matagalpa, and in the dioceses there has always been some difficulties. The position that the dioceses has is critical; and somehow, we all have this vision too. Not to criticize the Government, but to (denounce) injustice, and all violations of people’s rights. That is part of our mission too, to denounce evil, and that we did sometimes. The Gospel says we have to denounce sin and all injustice. It may be for that,” he said.
The diocese of Matagalpa is led by Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, one of the bishops that in his homilies exhorts the rulers to respect human rights and listen to the demands of the population. Alvarez was also one of the bishops who participated on behalf of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference in the mediation of the first attempt at National Dialogue between May and June of 2018.
Greater control over foreigners
The migratory ban of Franciscan priests occurs in a context in which foreign residents, among them businesspeople, entrepreneurs, professionals, spouses of Nicaraguans, have been summoned by immigration authorities, to intimidate them and threaten them with deportation, if they engage in “political activities.”
Confidencial reported the complaints of several foreigners, who agreed to speak anonymously to avoid further retaliation. They said that they handed in their permanent residency cards, valid for five years, and they gave them back a document valid for three months.
Although this situation occurred at the beginnin
g of this year, priest Lemus explained to Confidencial that, in August 2020, Migration also called foreign priests. In his case, he details, they reduced the validity of his residence card from five years to six months. This February 24, it was his turn to renew it. However, he was unable to because he was prohibited from entering, after leaving to San Salvador for a pastoral activity.
Precedent against Colombian priest Luis Carillo
t the end of 2020, the Ortega regime, through Immigration, canceled the residence of the Colombian priest Luis Carrillo. He was in charge of the Saint Jude Thaddeus Parish in Condega. Carrillo, like the cases of the two Franciscans friars, had his residence in order.
Monsignor Abelardo Mata, bishop of the Estelí dioceses, then affirmed to the media outlet “Portavoz Ciudadano,” that such actions are “part of the same process of persecution that the Church has experienced in Nicaragua.”
“There are foreign priests who raised their voice for justice and that does not please the regime,” said Mata.
Priest Lemus spend nine years in Nicaragua, three of them in Matagalpa. Now he is unable to return to Nicaragua, where he has left his personal belongings, such as books and clothes. He noted that, “people come to record and take photographs in churches,” documenting “what the priests are saying.”
“It may be they took something one time as interference in the political affairs of the country,” he says.
The Franciscan friar regretted not saying goodbye to the congregation. He assures that working with the people of Nicaragua “is a blessing.”
“You work with people of great faith, accessible and very loving people.” He further expressed satisfaction with having fulfilled his mission: “Bringing Christ to the hearts of people.”
The Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference has not issued a statement about the migratory situation of priests. The Catholic Church has been persecuted by the Government since 2018, when the civic protest broke out. The clergy protected citizens from all forms of violence, including, armed attacks, as happened in the Divine Mercy Church, in Managua, and the Saint Michael Archangel Church, in Masaya, which still have the bullets of repression in its structures. Likewise, the Managua Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint Sebastian (in Diriamba) and other parishes were desecrated by Ortega mobs.