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05/23/2024 Latin America (International Christian Concern) – It can be easy to overlook Christian persecution at the doorstep of the United States, as withering attacks in Nigeria and ongoing bullying by China and North Korea hijack our focus. Yet we turn to broader Latin America this month – including Mexico, Central America, and South America – where Christian persecution makes headlines. And countries like Nicaragua have all but declared war against Catholics.

Like many in the West, we were caught off-guard when priests were rounded up and arrested in Nicaragua at Christmas – Pope Francis condemned the attack in his Jan. 1 address, and the Vatican negotiated their release a month later. More than 100 priests have fled or been kicked out of the country, and hundreds of religious organizations have had their registrations canceled, according to the Washington Post. And as recently as late March, 11 Christian pastors were arrested on sham charges in connection with U.S.-based Mountain Gateway ministry. In Cuba, government officials regularly harass and target church leaders.

Two sources of Christian persecution are evil and Communist/Marxist regimes. The latter put the “State” ahead of Christ, while the former can fester in disillusioned hearts as greed, envy, and power. Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega, 78, embodies both as he punishes Christian leaders for threatening his regime’s control of the people.

“[Ortega] has been hostile toward Christianity since day one but it has grown much worse recently with a brutal crackdown on Catholics and now the evangelicals,” said International Christian Concern (ICC) President Jeff King. He added that Ortega’s presidency since 2007 has been marked by “tyranny, torture, and persecution.”

More than 500 churches and religious organizations have been attacked since 2018 under President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, according to The Hill. These include an altar boy’s murder and the arrests of dozens of priests and evangelicals Monsignor Rolando Álvarez served more than one year of a 26-year sentence on false charges for criticizing Ortega’s regime — he was released in January along with other priests.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “Government forces and citizens sympathetic to the regime have routinely harassed Catholic clergy and worshipers. Catholic clergy have recently come under direct persecution.”

In January, a Nicaraguan priest told of his beating and imprisonment to more than 1,000 attendees at the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit in Washington, D.C. Hiding his identity behind a screen and using a voice scrambler, the priest spoke of the need to stand for human rights in the face of severe persecution.

“I have agreed to come for two reasons — because I believe that there is a God who cares for us and because if we, as Christians, who believe in democracy, in freedom, in social justice, do nothing, no one else will,” the priest said. “Every Sunday, patrol cars full of police are parked in front of the country’s Catholic churches. The faithful who attend the Eucharist on Sundays are photographed [and] the homilies delivered by the remaining priests are being recorded. As a church, we are living through the worst moments in our history in Nicaragua since its arrival more than 500 years ago to the present moment.”

The U.S. Department of State has included Nicaragua in its Countries of Particular Concern list, which cites nations that severely violate religious freedom.

“It is important for Christians around the world to stand with the persecuted church,” King said. “They need to know that fellow believers are praying for them and working on their behalf.”

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