By Gabriela Selser (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – The rustic wooden cross enters in a silent procession, in the hands of the altar boy. Excited, people hold their breath and then break into applause. Some cry when they see the priest’s silhouette. He’s back.
“This applause is for Christ and for Nicaragua,” says Father Edwin Roman from the altar of the humble San Miguel church in Masaya, where he returns to today after two weeks of absence.
The believers fill the room for the mass and listen to the reading of the Gospel according to St. John, when Jesus with five loaves of bread and two fish fed thousands of people. And he even had enough left over to fill 12 baskets.
“We are living days when social peace has been broken, but we must fill ourselves with faith and never lose hope … What miracle would you ask for?” Asks the parish priest.
“That there is peace in Nicaragua,” responds a woman from the third row.
“Peace and justice,” adds another, more in the background.
“I ask for those who have emigrated, says a young man.”
“For those who are being tortured now, says someone else.”
Father Edwin does not hide his opposition to Daniel Ortega’s government: “We ask for the kidnapped youth, for the imprisoned adults, for all of us who suffer this repression.”
The ceremony concludes with songs and a prayer to the archangel San Miguel. The priest comes down from the altar and the people throw themselves to embrace him. They touch him, they kiss him. Children pull on his long green cassock while a pair of happy, skinny dogs run around among plaster saints.
“My first Mass in two weeks”, Roman tells dpa, satisfied, in the cool corridor of the Casa Cural surrounded by tropical flowers. A month ago, he had to take refuge in Managua for death threats and although he always came to his parish to give mass, the last two Sundays Ortega’s paramilitaries prevented him from entering Masaya.
Father Edwin was a teenager in 1979, when the Sandinistas overthrew Anastasio Somoza and took power. As a child he always heard about war, because his great uncle was none other than General Augusto Sandino, the illustrious patriot of Nicaragua who faced an invasion of the United States and died assassinated in 1934.
But at 58, with 28 years of priesthood, he never saw anything like what this country has experienced in recent months. Nearly 450 dead in less than four months, in a small country of 6 million inhabitants.
“We are living something like a down moment, but Masaya does not feel defeated because she is not, she is withdrawn, and this withdrawal is also an act of silence and repudiation of the Government,” he said standing next to the white wall of the atrium, pierced by AK-47 bullets.
His long figure, thinner now than two months ago, was seen walking the streets of Masaya, between the church and the police station, to help the wounded or to intercede for imprisoned young people when the civic protests broke out.
“God put me there,” he says, remembering that on that night of May 10 the riot police stormed the San Miguel church. A young man shouted: Father Edwin, open the door! And then everything started.
For hours, the priest distributed bread and water with a hose, so that the protesters could cool off the tear gas bombs. The shooting lasted until dawn and when the sun rose the first barricades were erected.
Located between the park and the hospital, whose doors the government ordered to close to the protesters, the parish house became a dispensary and health center, “because with the first donations of gauze and alcohol came the doctors and other volunteers.”
In a few days it was also a shelter, food storage, complaints office and even a morgue, when in mid-July the paramilitaries appeared in Masaya with the mission of destroying the more than 400 barricades scattered throughout the city.
“We received food, water, mattresses and even coffins donated by the people, people came to report their children dead or missing, others wounded on the verge of death,” he says thinking of Junior, 15, who almost died in his arms.
“The boy begged on his knees to the policewoman not to shoot him, but she pulled the trigger of her gun and killed him,” he says in pain.
Along with Alvaro Leiva, director of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH), Román managed to obtain the release of more than 400 detainees, including several policemen rescued from the barricades.
On July 17, Masaya fell into the hands of the Government after a fierce attack against the indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó, an indomitable center of civic resistance. That day, Ortega reiterated that he will not leave power and claimed victory over what he called “a terrorist coup”.
Police and paramilitaries searched for Father Román on buses. They asked the passengers, “Did you see any tall priest around here?” the response was one of silence.
“Today in Nicaragua being a priest is being an enemy, for the government we are dangerous because we tell the truth,” he said if asked about the role of the Catholic Church in these protests.
In his opinion, the priests must go from the pulpit to the street and be next to the people. “Or as Pope Francis said: we should not smell incense, but sheep,” he said.
Although it seems to have regained normalcy, Masaya is silent. In the mornings many go to the bank or to the market, but after noon they take refuge in their homes. Windows and doors closed.
The raids have not stopped. In nearby towns such as La Concha and Jinotepe, paramilitaries burst into homes and take young people away. “These are kidnappings, because there is no arrest warrant,” explains the parish priest of San Miguel.
“This is simply not fair, no, no human being deserves to live what we are living in Nicaragua,” he protests.
To the question of what will happen, the priest replies: “Only God knows, but I do not see a vanquished people, Nicaragua expects a miracle … that Daniel Ortega will leave soon.”