Masaya, Nicaragua, Sep 20 (EFE).- Nicaragua’s national police on Tuesday prevented celebrations in the streets in honor of St. Jerome, marked every year in the city of Masaya from September to December, the longest duration of its kind in the country.
Hundreds of police officers, including special operations and riot police, were stationed around the parish of St. Jerome in Masaya to enforce the ban imposed by the police on processions. The ban was announced by the Archdiocese of Managua on Saturday.
The police ban and the activities in honor of the saint come amid fresh frictions between the Catholic Church and the government led by Sandinista Daniel Ortega, who has a history of confrontations with the institution.
The ban affects Masaya, 28 kilometers (17 miles) southwest of Managua, a former Sandinista stronghold that rebelled against the Ortega administration in April 2018 during anti-government protests over social security reforms.
The protests later became a demand for the president’s resignation after a police crackdown on protesters.
Despite the tense atmosphere created by the presence of the police surrounding the parish, hundreds of parishioners gathered in the church to witness the traditional “descent of the Saint,” which entails lowering St. Jerome’s statue from the altar and dressing him up.
They shouted slogans such as “Long live St Jerome!” “Long live the doctor who cures without medicines!” “Long live the king of the mountain!” and “Long live the priests!”
The government also banned processions on Monday in Masaya in honor of St. Michael the Archangel, in the parish of the same name, which served as a refuge for protesters injured during the police crackdown in 2018.
Both the episcopal vicar of pastoral care of the archdiocese of Managua, Boanerges Carballo, and the parish priest, José Antonio Espinoza, thanked the parishioners for their “patience, excitement and enthusiasm.”
The clerics also insisted that they would respect the orders of the authorities not to remove the statue of St. Jerome from the parish.
At least eight clerics have been imprisoned in Nicaragua this year, including the bishop of the diocese of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the diocese of Estelí, Rolando Álvarez.
At least nine radio stations and three television stations of the Catholic Church have also been closed this year and apostolic nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag as well as 18 nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, have been expelled.
The holding of masses and other religious activities in the department of Matagalpa has also been banned.
Relations between the Sandinistas and the Catholic Church have been marked by friction and mistrust over the past 43 years.
The Catholic community represents 58.5 percent of Nicaragua’s 6.6 million inhabitants, according to the latest national census. EFE