MANAGUA – The archbishop of Managua declared on Friday a fire at the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Nicaraguan capital as a “terrorist act” in the Catholic majority country.
“It is a terrorist act, an act of intimidating the Church in its evangelizing mission,” said Leopoldo Brenes, who in July 2018 claimed that the Catholic Church is persecuted by Daniel Ortega’s regime.
The fire, which burned a historic Blood of Christ image, occurred on Friday, when an unidentified man allegedly dropped a bomb inside the Chapel of the Blood of Christ.
It came amid a wave of desecrations against Catholic churches since the clergy announced the suspension of the largest popular festival in Nicaragua, in honor of Santo Domingo de Guzman, due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
At an impromptu press conference in the cathedral’s courtyard, the cardinal said there were indications that the burning of one of the most precious assets of Nicaraguan Catholics “was very calmly planned.”
Brenes connected the fire with another event that occurred on July 20, in which a man in a van destroyed the gates of the cathedral and stole a fence, which served as an escape route for the perpetrator of the fire.
“He planned everything out – where to get in, how to do it, and then from where to escape. This was truly planned,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ortega’s wife, vice president Rosario Murillo, stated that the fire was the result of an accident caused by the faithful.
“The fire started, it burned, the aluminum structure, the curtains, and the flowers that adorned it burned. The existence of lit candles in the surroundings of the Blood of Christ was proven. These are the candles that the parishioners light, looking for ways to pay promises to our Saints,” Murillo said.
The official explanation was rebuffed by Brenes, who stated that more than 20 years ago he had recommended that the image, which has been in Nicaragua for 382 years and before which Saint John Paul II knelt and prayed on his visit to the country in 1996, was put out of danger of fires due to its historical and religious importance.
“There were no candles there, so we cannot think that the fire, in quotes, could be the result of a falling candle … This was an act of terrorism by a high-powered bomb,” the cardinal claimed.
On the other hand, the National Police issued a press release about the fire, in which both Murillo’s and Brenes’ versions were contradicted.
“No residues of artisan powder, explosive substances of industrial origin, or hydrocarbon-type accelerants were detected in the combustion material samples. The occurrence of a short circuit or overheating of the electrical system was ruled out as the source of the fire. At the scene, a plastic spray bottle with alcohol was found,” the police said.
In a photograph shared by the police, the bottle allegedly found at the scene is pictured, but does not appear to be burnt like the rest of the objects in the chapel.
The bomb version of events was confirmed by witnesses, the security of which aroused concern within different human rights organizations that, like the opposition, blamed the government and the pro-Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) for the fire.
Both the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, as well as the opposition Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy and Blue and White National Unity, condemned the incident, blamed “the dictatorship,” and agreed on calling the incident “state terrorism.”
Relations between the Catholic Church of Nicaragua and Ortega have been broken since religious affiliates risked their lives to save thousands of people from armed tanks in the 2018 anti-government protests, which resulted in hundreds of prisoners, dead and missing, and more than 100,000 in exile.
Ortega, who claims to have defended himself from a “failed coup d’etat,” called the episcopate a “coup-monger,” after which bishops, priests and Catholic churches have suffered systematic attacks or desecration by Sandinistas and others.
The friction between Ortega and the Catholic Church is not new, just as Saint John Paul II witnessed on his first visit to Nicaragua in 1983, when he had to raise his voice to silence the “Sandinista mobs,” who insulted the pope during the first term of the ex-guerrilla leader.