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Opinion: A bishop of immense courage

Nicaraguan Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez speaks to the press at the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas church in Managua, on May 20, 2022.
AFP via Getty Images
Nicaraguan Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez speaks to the press at the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas church in Managua, on May 20, 2022.

Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, is in prison this week. He may be there for26 years.

Bishop Alvarez has protested against the regime of President Daniel Ortega, and was sentenced for what a Nicaraguan court called treason and "undermining national integrity."

The bishop was sentenced just days after he was only steps away from joining a group of222 political prisoners the government released last week to be flown to the United States. But he stopped on the aircraft's stairs.

"Let the others be free," Bishop Alvarez declared. "I will endure their punishment."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the release, "a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses in the country ..." But more political prisoners remain in Nicaragua. And this week the regimerevoked the citizenship of 94 political opponents, calling them "traitors" too.

Bishop Alvarez became a target for government prosecution last year when he criticized President Ortega's regime for jailing priests and seminarians, exiling an archbishop and 18 sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, and closing church radio stations.

Security forces surrounded his own church in Matagalpa. The Bishop came out and told them he would be, "Frightened and on my knees, only before God." He was placed under house arrest.

President Ortega called the bishop's refusal to board the plane out of Nicaragua, "an absurd thing." And from our secure perch in a society in which people can speak, vote, and for that matter, boo the president of the United States to his face during an address before Congress, we might wonder: why didn't Bishop Alvarez just get on that plane and go?

Some 180,000 Nicaraguans crossed into the United States in the first 11 months of last year; thousands more still wait. Bishop Alvarez would not only be safer and more comfortable in the U.S., but free to speak and be heard around the world.

But Fr. James Martin, the Jesuit priest, and editor-at-large of America magazine told us this week that safety, comfort, and freedom for himself doesn't seem to be how Bishop Rolando Alvarez sees the purpose of his priesthood, and his life.

"Bishop Alvarez is very much in line with the actions of many saints and martyrs of the church," Fr. Martin told us. "This kind of holiness is about remaining with your friends and refusing to leave them."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.