Father Erick Díaz, a priest whose citizenship was revoked by the Nicaraguan government for preaching the Gospel and defending human rights, is now living and ministering at St. Mary of the Lake and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood. Díaz served as rector of the San Óscar Romero Minor Seminary in Matiguás, in the Diocese of Matagalpa, and then as a parish priest in the San José Obrero Church in Tuma. At 33 years old, he is one of the youngest priests deported from Nicaragua. Díaz left Nicaragua in August 2022, spending time in Costa Rica and Miami before arriving in Chicago in the autumn. He had about 30 minutes to make the decision to flee with only the clothes he was wearing and a small backpack with personal belongings. Cardinal Cupich has welcomed Díaz. “In solidarity with the suffering church of Nicaragua, I have offered hospitality and welcome to a courageous priest who, with many of his brothers, stood with his bishop as a witness to the human rights of their people,” said Cardinal Cupich in a statement. “The church of Chicago is blessed to have him with us. We call for an immediate end to the systemic persecution of the church in Nicaragua through false accusations, the closures of Catholic radio stations, the blocking of access to churches and other serious acts that violate religious freedom and the social order.” The recent crackdown is seen as part of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s effort to suppress increasing criticism of his dictatorship. Díaz presided over a Mass of Thanksgiving on Feb. 19 at the parish. Thousands of Nicaraguans have fled their country during the Ortega administration’s recent security crackdowns, including Catholic political prisoners Antonio Zelaya Sevilla, Jerling Uriel Cruz Ortiz and Lázaro Ernesto Rivas Perez. They have been granted asylum in the United States and also attended Sunday’s Mass. Sevilla, Ortiz and Perez are among 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners deported from their native country by Ortega. More than 30 Nicaraguan priests have asked for refuge in neighboring countries as persecution of the church in Nicaragua has intensified, and clerics speaking against the Ortega regime have faced the prospect of arrest or deportation. In his homily, Díaz committed himself to serving the local Catholic community “without measure.” “Like me, thousands of Nicaraguans have had to leave our homeland for the simple fact of dreaming and wanting a decent country for all. The church couldn’t not remain silent when they murdered more than 356 young people,” he said. “The church could not remain silent when the first Nicaraguans were exiled, when innocent people were imprisoned while those truly responsible for the deaths and violence were released.” He also acknowledged how Pope Francis and the universal church have reached out to help the persecuted Nicaraguans. “I cannot ignore the universal church, which, like a good Samaritan, has reached out to each person who has suffered and has made herself feel like a mother,” Díaz said. “The church has been present with each person exiled. Its institutions have been welcoming and supportive with their solidarity throughout the world. This is the beauty of the church, dear brothers and sisters, that does not see us as strangers, but as a great family.” During Mass, they also prayed for Díaz’s local bishop, Bishop Rolando Álvarez, an outspoken critic of Nicaragua’s government, who, on Feb. 10 was ordered to be deported from his native land to the United States with other prisoners. He refused and the next day was sentenced to 26 years in prison on charges of undermining the government. He is being held in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison in Managua. “His ‘no’ is not born out of being stubborn, but out of love. And out of love he has embraced the cross and he is witnessing to us with his life and acts,” Díaz said in his homily. “He is the bishop of nonviolence. He is the bishop of peace. Let us pray for him and always accompany him in this moment that he lives together with the people of Nicaragua.” Welcoming persecuted clergy is not new for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Answering the Gospel call to welcome the stranger, Monsignor Francis Clement Kelly, then-pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Wilmette, received two bishops and four priests during the persecution of the church in Mexico in the 1920s. He later opened a seminary, primarily for exiled Mexican clergy, in Montezuma, Texas.