Exiled Nicaraguan bishop: ‘Brotherhood, peace and justice for all’

By Steve Euvino | Contributor
Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Exiled Nicaraguan bishop: ‘Brotherhood, peace and justice for all’

Bishop Silvio Báez, exiled auxiliary bishop of Managua, Nicaragua, was the main celebrant and homilist for a Mass at the St. Mary of the Lake Church worship site, 4220 N. Sheridan Road, of St. Mary of the Lake Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on May 7, 2023. This was his first pastoral visit to the Midwest. Bishop Báez, an outspoken critic of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, sought refuge in the United States in 2019 after warned by the U.S. government that he was the target of an assassination plot. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Women wearing Nicaraguan shirts and jerseys hold their home country's flag with a rosary during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez incenses the altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A young man kneels in prayer during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez delivers his homily. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez is joined by priests in the celebration of the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez celebrates the Eucharist. Parish pastor Father Manuel Dorantes stands beside him. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Native Nicaraguans filled the church and aisles for the Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A woman dressed in a Nicaragua baseball jersey and blue cape prays during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez kisses the head of a girl who helped bring up the gifts during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The bishop holds up a personalized Chicago Cubs' jersey that he received from the congregation. The church is located close to Wrigley Field. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Participants dress in their country's colors and wave the national flag during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez embraces a participant as he makes his way up the aisle at the end of Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez shakes hands with people as he leaves the church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Báez speaks with a woman following Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

An exiled bishop from the largest and poorest nation in Central America shared his hopes May 7 with his fellow Nicaraguans.

As the main celebrant at Mass at St. Mary of the Lake Church, Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez Ortega of Managua told his countrymen, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t lose hope. The future of Nicaragua depends on the capacity to dream, the capacity for organization and the capacity for being human and loving each other.”

Bishop Báez, an outspoken critic of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, fled that country in 2019 on the advice of Pope Francis, who told him, “I do not want another martyred bishop in Latin America.”

Bishop Báez, who received death threats from the government and now lives in exile in Miami, Florida, celebrated Mass on the Fifth Sunday of Easter during his first pastoral visit to the Midwest.

The 65-year-old bishop told a church packed with Nicaraguans in their national colors of blue and white that the people of Nicaragua are victims of “the ambition of power, the irrationality of violence and disrespect for freedom.”

With a population of 6 million in a country about the size of New York state, Nicaragua is marked by widespread poverty and unemployment. In addition to its political woes, the country faces deforestation, soil erosion and water pollution, along with hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic activity.

While God will not work any magic, the bishop recalled Jesus’ words: “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in me.”

Bishop Báez continued, “Jesus wants us to live with the certainty that we are loved and cared for by God with an intimate love and tenderness. We can’t always understand the negatives happening, but we always have faith that Jesus is at our side, to help us confront our problems with serenity and wisdom, to build a future of brotherhood, peace, and justice for all.”

Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who has been president since 2007, has been accused of systematically undermining Nicaragua’s democratic structure, including separation of powers, the electoral system and respect for human rights. Power is now concentrated in Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has especially been targeted, with clergy expelled and church property closed or seized.

Bishop Báez and other Nicaraguans offered prayers for Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa, who earlier this year was unjustly sentenced to 26 years imprisonment.

Carla Santana, who worked for a Catholic organization serving 60,000 poor Nicaraguan children, said the government closed the facility because it was linked to the Catholic Church.

Santana, whose life was endangered, came to the U.S. last year. She said Bishop Báez’s visit symbolizes that “we continue the fight that justice prevails.”

The bishop, she said, is a “symbol of unity for the Nicaraguan community. We’re still in this together, fighting.”

Santana said many Nicaraguans have settled in this country in Miami, California and Indianapolis. The Chicago Mass drew visitors from at least 14 states and the District of Columbia.

Grisel Montoya and Carol Gonzalez, both from Madison, Wisconsin, came to the U.S. from Nicaragua in 2008.

Bishop Báez, Montoya said, “is part of the Catholic Church, and the government has attacked the church. This is part of my culture. We’re happy [the bishop] is in our church.”

Gonzalez added, “As a church, we feel hurt that this has happened. This [Mass] is how we can share our prayers for him and all our priests. We want to show them they have our support.”  

Further in his homily, Bishop Báez noted, “Even when the way is closed and we feel like solutions are not reconcilable, we do not doubt that God, as it says in Psalm 11, is just and loves justice.”

Over the past five years, the bishop said, Nicaragua has endured hard, painful times. And yet, he added, it has not all been negative. This suffering, he said, “has demonstrated the greatness, dignity and indomitable spirit” of the Nicaraguan people, who keep “resisting, dreaming, fighting.”

These times, the bishop said, have also shown the role of the Catholic Church in society, in defending the dignity of victims and prisoners.

As the church leads people to Jesus, Bishop Báez said, “Jesus is the way that leads us to God. In the midst of all the polarization and confrontations, it is comforting to know the one way to the truth is Jesus.”

With its proximity to Wrigley Field, the parish community presented Bishop Báez with a personalized Chicago Cubs jersey.

Father Manuel Dorantes, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, cited the diversity of the parish, and said, “We want to embrace the entire Nicaraguan community. We are one church, regardless of where we are.”


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