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Easter processions banned in Nicaragua as Roman Catholic persecution continues in the country

by Kelly Valencia

Nicaragua's president Daniel Ortega has banned all religious processions during Lent and Holy Week, according to Vatican News. 

The agency reports that it understands all processions of the Way of the Cross will only be allowed to take place inside or in the courtyard of churches but not in the streets.

Earlier this week, the police banned processions in the country's west. One of the lead priests in the diocese took to Facebook to communicate the police's request.

"The vicar general informed us that by order of the police, the Way of the Cross will take place around the block [of the church]", Rev Julián Duarte said.

"Let's pray, let's do pious acts; no [political] comments for the love of God, please", the religious man asked the faithful.

The measure is the latest blow to the Roman Catholic Church, which has, in recent months, been hard hit by the government's crackdown on priests and believers. Authorities see the Roman Catholic Church as a threat to the president's authoritarian government.

In Ortega's latest criticism of the Church, he called Catholic leaders a "mafia" and accused the Vatican of having supported Italian dictator Mussolini.

"I don't believe in popes or kings: who chooses the Pope?" he said. "If we want to talk about democracy, the people should first elect priests and the bishops", and "even the Pope" should be "elected by direct vote and not by the organized mafia in the Vatican."

The president's comments come amid an international outcry over the recent sentencing of Bishop Rolando Alvarez to 26 years in prison. He was convicted of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news, among other charges, for running Catholic radio stations.

Bishop Rolando was meant to be part of the over 220 political opponents deported to the United States earlier this month, but he refused to leave the country. Consequently, he was stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship and placed in a high-security prison.

Pope Francis recently expressed concern over the political situation in Nicaragua. He said he is praying "for all those who suffer in the beloved nation of Nicaragua" and called on leaders to seek peace there.

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