Uptown church welcomes exiled Nicaraguan priest and former political prisoners – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

Days after his Nicaraguan citizenship was revoked, the Rev. Erick Díaz was welcomed with booming applause at St. Mary of Lake Catholic Church. The churchgoers witnessed the introduction of Díaz to his “new home” in Uptown, where he and three other men were given refuge by Cardinal Blase Cupich.

“Even though I am no longer a Nicaraguan by citizenship, I still am Nicaraguan and fully intend to support my new Nicaraguan community here,” Díaz said.

Díaz is just one of 30 Nicaraguan priests who have asked for refuge in neighboring countries. The 33-year-old priest from Tuma, Nicaragua, left his home country in August and arrived in Chicago in November, going first through Costa Rica and then Miami.

“The Hispanic community is strong here, and my faith’s community is strong here as well,” Díaz told the Tribune. “I plan to serve my Nicaraguan community here, but also my migrant community that now includes Cubans, Venezuelans and others who are coming.”

Nicaraguan attendees stand during a service at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church on Feb. 19, 2023.

Díaz’s introduction comes days after the Nicaraguan government exiled 222 priests, students, activists and other critics of the government. Then the government stripped 94 people of their citizenship Wednesday, a move that human rights groups call a political ploy and a violation of international law. Three other men at Sunday’s Mass, Jerling Uriel Cruz Ortiz, Antonio Zelaya Sevilla and Lázaro Ernesto Rivas Perez, were Catholic political prisoners in Nicaragua and among the 222 exiles, according to the church.

Spain offered citizenship to the 222 exiles, while the United States has granted the Nicaraguans two-year temporary protection.

Díaz said his bishop, Rolando Álvarez, was an outspoken critic of the government and was supposed to be deported by the Nicaraguan government from Nicaragua to the United States on Feb. 9. Instead, Álvarez was given a “sham trial,” accused of being a traitor and sentenced to 26 years of solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison, Díaz said.

Díaz said he would have met the same fate except for a confidential call that saved his life. “I got a phone call saying that they (government representatives) were coming; I knew I needed to leave.”

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During Mass, Díaz said Álvarez was “a bishop who loved his people without measure.”

From right, the Rev. Manuel Dorantes and the Rev. Erick Díaz attend a service at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in Chicago on Feb. 19, 2023.
Attendees kneel during a service at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church on Feb. 19, 2023.

Díaz said the government was targeting priests because “the church has a role to play when it comes (to) marginalized people. We need to speak out when injustices happen and we will continue to do so.”

In 2018, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced plans to reduce retirement benefits and increase taxes. Mass protests and looting spread over five days in the Central American country. Human rights groups said 26 civilians were killed in the protests.

Ortega called the 2018 protests an attempted coup with foreign backing, aimed at his overthrow and encouraged by foreign nations to apply sanctions on members of his family and government.

Díaz said the first people to criticize the government were students, who were targeted and attacked. Now the church is behind the students, and the priests are getting attacked.

In a statement, Cupich said, “(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 Associated Press contributed.

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