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'Weeping' statue of Mary investigated by N.M. diocese

Las Cruces, N.M., Jul 17, 2018 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- A New Mexican diocese is investigating a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that some Catholics say has been “weeping” for more than a month.

Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Diocese of Las Cruces gave a public update July 15 about the diocesan investigation into an allegedly “weeping” statue of the Virgin Mary. The cast bronze image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been drawing crowds to the church named in her honor in Hobbs, N.M. 


A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hobbs, N.M., appears to be weeping. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Las Cruces.

Parishioners first reported seeing tears appearing to stream down the hollow statue in May.

Giving an update on the investigation launched that same month, Bishop Cantú said on Sunday that some had also reported a pleasant smell around the statue.

“Some of the witnesses claimed it smelled of roses, so something similar to the oil I bless and consecrate each year that we use for baptism, for confirmations and for ordination of the priests.” So far, the investigation seems to support these reports. As part of the efforts to determine the origin and nature of the tears, samples were sent for chemical analysis. The results determined that the tears were made of a scented olive oil.

The statue itself is also being examined.  "We examined the interior of the hollow statue," Cantú told reporters. "There's nothing on the interior that's not supposed to be there, except for cobwebs. So we took pictures; we examined it."

It was thought by investigators that the tears might have been the result of residual wax from the casting process, but this appears to have been ruled out. Cantú said that the manufacturers had assured them that the heat of the casting process made it impossible for there to be any moisture left in the statue. Addressing the possibility that the weeping statue could be an hoax, he noted that if it was he could not see how it was being accomplished.

On July 11, it was announced that Bishop Cantú was being transferred to  take up the post of bishop coadjutor in the diocese of San José, California. He is scheduled to take up that post at the end of September. Before he leaves, Cantú said he intends to visit the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe to see the statue for himself.

Before making any final decision on the miraculous nature of the weeping statue, the bishop said he would be seeking advice from a higher authority. “I'm checking best practices," he told reporters. "Certainly, I have a final say, but I would defer to the wisdom of Pope Francis."

In the meantime, the Hobbs church continues to see a steady stream of visitors. Even without formal recognition by church authorities, many are finding it a moving experience.

“I've read most of those written testimonies, and they are stories of tremendous faith, people who have been dealing with terrible suffering in their lives and have felt a tremendous spiritual consolation that Mary walks with us in our tears” Cantú said.

He noted that for many Catholics in the border diocese of Las Cruces, the image of Our Lady crying with them was deeply powerful. “I can't help but think of my own shedding of tears for the poor people who come to our border, fleeing life-threatening situations. The tears of those children who are separated from their parents. There are many reasons we would shed tears, and God stands with us in those moments.”

The diocesan investigation continues.

 

 

 

The Church is without a camerlengo

Vatican City, Jul 17, 2018 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With the July 5 death of Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the office of camerlengo is now vacant. A sensitive position, above all in the period between the death of a pope and the election of his successor, the Church awaits Pope Francis’ nomination of a new camerlengo.

The camerlengo is one of two head officials of the Roman Curia who do not lose their office while the papacy is vacant. The camerlengo administers Church finances and property during the interregnum.

However, Francis could choose to do as did Ven. Pius XII in 1941 and not nominate a new camerlengo. At the death of Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri, Ven. Pius XII did not nominate a successor, and at his death in 1958, the cardinals elected, at the beginning of the sede vacante, Cardinal Benedetto Aloisi Masella.

The position of the camerlengo is regulated by the apostolic constitutions Pastor bonus and Universi dominici gregis.

Paragraph 17 of Universi dominici gregis establishes that “the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church must officially ascertain the Pope’s death and “must also place seals on the Pope’s study and bedroom”, and later “the entire papal apartment.”

The camerlengo is also responsible for notifying the cardinal vicar for Rome of the pope’s death, who then notifies the people of Rome by special announcement. He takes possession of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican and Palaces of the Lateran and of Castel Gandolfo and manages their administration.

“During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church has the duty of safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See, with the help of the three Cardinal Assistants, having sought the views of the College of Cardinals, once only for less important matters, and on each occasion when more serious matters arise,” the constitution states.

After being appointed, the new camerlengo will swear before the pope, who will give him a scepter, a symbol of the authority of the camerlengo. The current scepter, covered in red velvet, dates to the papacy of Benedict XV.

Vatican's former legal chief says canon law should include care of creation

Rome, Italy, Jul 17, 2018 / 12:14 pm (CNA).- The Vatican's former top advisor on canon law has made a public call to insert legal obligations for the care of creation into the Church’s universal canon law -  making it a legal duty for Catholics not only “not to harm” the environment, but to improve it.

According to veteran Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, former head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, made the proposal during a July 12 event in Rome titled “Dialogue on Catholic Investments for the Energy Transition.”

During the closed-door discussion, representatives from the Vatican and Catholic organizations spoke about how to invest responsibly towards a transition to renewable energies.

In an interview with Vatican Insider, Coccopalmerio discussed canons 208-221 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which enumerate “Obligations and rights of all the faithful.”

This section “outlines an ‘identikit’ of the faithful and of their life as a Christian,” the cardinal said, but noted that nothing is mentioned “about one of the most serious duties: that of protecting and promoting the natural environment in which the faithful live.”

The proposal he outlined, which he suggested could be submitted to the pope but considered by his former department, would be to ask for a new canon to be added to the obligations of the all faithful, specifically treating environmental responsibility. 

Coccopalmerio, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in April this year, went on to give his own ideas of how it might be worded: “Every faithful Christian, mindful that creation is the common house, has the grave duty not only not to damage, but also to improve, both through everyday behavior, and through specific initiatives, the natural environment in which each person is called to live.”

The canons Coccopalmerio referenced address general obligations for Catholics relating to the practice of the faith and maintaining communion with the Church. They do not address specific moral obligations or particular doctrinal teachings. Those canons do not, for example, include the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception or the obligation to observe just labor practices. 

Drawing inspiration from Laudato si', Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical on the environment, participants at the event agreed on the Catholic Program of Disinvestment, sponsored by the Catholic Climate Movement, which urges ecclesial institutions to make a public commitment to move away from financial investments in fossil fuels.

Participants also highlighted the importance of pursuing ethical investment strategies in line with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, according to Tornielli.

Pope Francis has often expressed his environmental concerns and, in his message on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in 2016, he said maintaining our common home ought to be considered a work of mercy.

“We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness,” the pope said in that message.

Looking at the concept of works of mercy, “we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces,” he said. Francis proposed caring for creation as “a complement” to the two traditional sets of seven corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

“May the works of mercy also include care for our common home,” he said, explaining that as a spiritual work, care for creation “calls for a grateful contemplation of God’s world which allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us.”

In a conference held earlier this month to mark the third anniversary of the publication of Laudato si', Pope Francis said a change of heart is needed when it comes to issues related to the environment.

Future actions which promote the care of creation, “presuppose a transformation on a deeper level, namely a change of hearts and minds,” he said, adding that while this obligation binds all religious  communities, Christians have a special role to play.

Central African bishops call for peace amid renewed violence

Bangui, Central African Republic, Jul 17, 2018 / 11:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of the Central African Republic have urged Catholics not to give in to calls for revenge attacks on Muslims, following a surge in violence and the murder of a priest.

The CAR has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.

In reaction to the Seleka's attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

A group calling itself the League of Defense of the Church issued a statement earlier this month saying it would defend the Church and avenge killed priests, charging that both the government and the Church hierarchy have failed to protect Christians.

The Central African Bishops' Conference responded, saying, “The bishops of Central Africa were outraged by this communiqué from an organization called 'The League of Defense of the Church' in the Central African Republic of which they know nothing about.”

“The projects that this league claims to achieve are at odds with the gospel, the aspirations of the church and its mission in the Central African Republic,” continued Fr. Joseph Tanga Koti, general secretary of the bishops' conference.

“The Bishops of the Central African Republic want Central Africans to be vigilant. There are always enemies of peace who want to create a conflict between Christians and Muslims to show that Christians and Muslims cannot live together in Central Africa,” the conference has said.

The CAR held a general election in 2015-16 which installed a new government, but militant groups continue to terrorize local populations. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and at least a million have been displaced. At least half of Central Africans depend on humanitarian aid, the U.N. reports.

Pope Francis visited the CAR during his trip to Africa in 2015, and urged the country’s leaders to work for peace and reconciliation.

Three priests have keen killed in the CAR this year.

Fr. Firmin Gbagoua, vicar general of the Diocese of Bambari, was shot June 29 while eating dinner by the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, and ex-Seleka militia dominated by the Fulani ethnic group.

In May, an attack on Our Lady of Fatima parish in Bangui while Mass was being said left 15 dead, including Fr. Albert Toungoumale Baba.

And in April, Fr. Joseph Désiré Angbabata was killed together with some of his parishioners in an attack on his church in Seko, about 40 miles northeast of Bambari.

Holy See hopes UN migration agreement will defend human dignity

New York City, N.Y., Jul 17, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican’s representative at the United Nations expressed hope that a new UN agreement on best practices for international migration will guarantee respect for the human dignity of all migrants.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the UN, spoke July 13 at the concluding session of intergovernmental negotiations on migration, the culmination of a nearly two-year process.

“This first-ever comprehensive framework on migration will serve as the international reference point for best practices and international cooperation in the global management of migration, not only for Governments, but also for non-governmental entities among which are the faith-based organizations, who are truly the hands and feet on the ground to assist migrants in difficulty,” said Auza.

The agreement --  the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration -- details 23 international objectives, including the eradication of human trafficking and “use of migration detention only as a measure of last resort.”

Since 2000, more than 60,000 people have died in their attempt to migrate, according to the International Organization of Migration's research on migrant deaths and disappearances.

The Vatican representative told the UN that “Pope Francis encapsulates these shared responsibilities and solidarity in four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.”

“This Global Compact will make it more difficult for anyone — States, civil society or anyone of us — to be unaware of the challenges that people on the move face and to fail to meet our shared responsibilities towards them, in particular toward those most in need of our solidarity,” continued Auza.

Auza quoted Pope Francis’ Mass for Migrants homily on July 6. “Before the challenges of contemporary movements of migration, the only reasonable response is one of solidarity and mercy . . . A just policy is one at the service of the person, of every person involved; a policy that provides for solutions that can ensure security, respect for the rights and dignity of all; a policy concerned for the good of one’s own country, while taking into account that of others in an ever more interconnected world.”

The archbishop added that the Catholic Church “will continue to commit itself fully to the benefit of migrants, always respecting their rights and human dignity.”

The global compact on migration will be formally adopted at a UN meeting in Marrakech, Morocco on Dec. 10-11. Following a decision by the Trump administration, the United States withdrew from the negotiations in December 2017.

“The Holy See nurtures the hope that the Global Compact will not only be a matter of good migration management, but truly be, as is its ultimate purpose, a significant step forward in the service of the person, not only of every migrant, but for all of humanity,” concluded the archbishop.

Overturning ‘Roe’ no ‘magic bullet,’ NY archdiocese lawyer says

New York City, N.Y., Jul 16, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Director of Public Policy for the Archdiocese of New York has said that overturning the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision should not be the seen as the final objective for pro-life advocates in the United States.

In a blog post written before President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, Mechmann warned that during the confirmation process for any nominee, “the rhetoric will be heated and likely ugly, and may even include a large dose of religious intolerance.”

Mechmann’s post explained that the advance of secularism and moral relativism have detached judicial decisions from the principles of natural law. Without this foundation, Mechmann argued, judicial interpretation lacks a “moral and legal compass” to guide decisions.

The result is that the judicial process and the Supreme Court are increasingly accepted as politically tainted, something the framers of the Constitution never intended, he said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Judge Kavanaugh is expected to join the more conservative wing of the Supreme Court. He is widely considered to be an “originalist,” interpreting the Constitution according to its plain-text reading and the intentions and understanding of the founding fathers themselves.

This standard is then applied when “originalist” judges evaluate whether legislation conforms to the Constitution.

Originalist thinkers are often seen to oppose so-called “living” readings of the Constitution, in which legal rights and principles are inferred to exist in the light of modern values, even if they are not contained in the text itself.

In the context of abortion, the decision Roe v. Wade rested on the Court’s inference of a “right to privacy” for women seeking abortions, something which is explicitly not found in the Bill of Rights. The subsequent decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, delivered in 1992, affirmed the right to privacy and the legal protection it affords abortion. That decision was co-authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who last month announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, creating the current vacancy. If confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh could create what many have predicted to be a 5-4 majority on the Court in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade.

But Mechmann, a Harvard educated lawyer who previously worked in the United States’ Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, noted that an originalist majority did not necessarily mean Roe would be overturned.

Roe, said Mechmann, did not just “emerge fully formed from the brow of Justice Blackmun” [author of the decision]. Rather, it was “the result of decades of prior decisions, reaching back to the 1920's.” Consequently, overturning Roe would involve repudiating a deeply embedded body of legal argument, he said. Such a dramatic step would “set off a political explosion that would undermine the legitimacy of the Court in the eyes of a large number of Americans.”

Such a “political explosion” might already have begun,  as abortion advocates react to the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh. Terry McAuliffe, the former Governor of Virginia, said July 9 that Kavanaugh’s nomination “will threaten the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come.”

Even if a “pro-life” appointee were confirmed, Roe v. Wade is not certain to be overturned, Mechmann argued. Several of the more conservative Supreme Court Justices often prefer to make decisions on narrowly defined questions relevant to particular cases. Mechmann noted this tendency in past decisions from Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Alito and Gorsuch, and suggested there could be a succession of such rulings which chip away at legal protections for abortion, but stop short of a single dramatic reversal.

The strength of expectation around a possible reversal of Roe v. Wade has led many to assume it would result in abortion becoming illegal overnight, yet this is not the case, Mechmann said. In the event that the Supreme Court reversed itself and removed the inferred constitutional protection for abortion, the issue would again be subject to state-by-state legislation. This, Mechmann pointed out, would yield very mixed results.

“A number of states already have laws on the books that would essentially permit abortion on demand for some, if not all of pregnancy. New York's statute, for example, permits abortion on demand prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy. According to one expert on abortion law, if Roe and Casey were overruled, only eleven states would have laws that would completely outlaw abortion, and over 80% of Americans would live in states where the situation would be essentially unchanged -- abortion would still be legal for all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason and with little effective regulation.”

As many as twelve states already recognize a Constitutional right to abortion.

A Supreme Court majority willing to overturn Roe v. Wade is not, Mechmann warns, “a magic bullet that will make all things new.” While it would be a significant victory for pro-life advocates, their work would need to continue at the state level. This would involve political and legislative efforts to protect the unborn state-by-state, and, just as important, include cultural efforts.

“We have to work harder to create a social infrastructure that would replace the culture of contraception and abortion and promote a vision of women's health that truly respects her fertility and genuine freedom. We still have a lot of work to do.”

 

Our Lady of Mount Carmel aids in spiritual warfare, bishop says

Lincoln, Neb., Jul 16, 2018 / 05:11 pm (CNA).- The Blessed Virgin Mary aids Catholics in spiritual warfare, the bishop of Lincoln, Neb., told a monastery of Carmelite nuns Monday, at a Mass celebrating the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel reminds us of the importance of our interior lives- not only for our own salvation, but the salvation of souls through Christ’s Church,” said Bishop James Conley, while celebrating Mass July 16 at the Carmelite Monastery of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Valparaiso, Neb.

Mentioning the Biblical prophet Elijah, who is said to have resided in a cave on Israel’s Mount Carmel, the bishop said that “Carmel was the place from which Elijah exercised the great prophetic charism to which the Lord had called him.“

In particular, the bishop mentioned an encounter on Mount Carmel between Elijah and prophets of the idol Baal, recounted in 1 Kings, in which an altar at which prayed to God was lit aflame, a feat which the Idol’s prophets were not able to replicate.

In a similar way, the bishops told the nuns, “Carmel is the place where the Lord calls you, often, to real spiritual warfare for the salvation of souls. Carmel is the place where the glory of the Lord is revealed through you. And Carmel is the place from which you are called to exercise the prophetic ministry to which every member of Christ’s body is called, and to which you, in a special way as nuns, are called.”

“Our Lady is with you- she whose very soul proclaimed God’s greatness, who bore in her womb the salvation of the world. She too is in Carmel.”

The bishop also mention devotion to the scapular, long associated with Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who is said to have conveyed a scapular to St. Simon Stock in the 13th century.

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel clothed St. Simon Stock with the scapular. In so doing, she reminds us that she clothed the child Jesus, lovingly protecting him and wrapping him in her own mantle.”

Quoting St. John Paul II, he said Catholics must ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to “clothe each of us with the wisdom and love of her divine Son.”

Finally, the bishop mentioned that the scapular, like other sacramentals and devotions, are “a reminder that the Church is the sacrament of our salvation, and that the tangible expressions of the faith the Church gives us are gifts, meant to guide us to intimacy with Jesus, and, ultimately, to salvation.”
  

Tenn. bishops speak out against executions

Nashville, Tenn., Jul 16, 2018 / 05:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Tennessee issued a letter to the state’s governor Friday, encouraging him to halt upcoming executions expected to use a controversial three-drug lethal injection. 

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote July 13 to Governor Bill Haslam. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned for later this year.”

The bishops emphasized the value of all human life, even that of those convicted of horrendous crimes, offering themselves a resource to the governor for any questions regarding Catholic teaching on the subject.

The letter was signed by Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis. The request came ahead of the pending execution of Billy Irick, who is scheduled to die August 9 by lethal injection.

Irick was convicted of the rape and murder of Paula Dyer, a seven-year-old girl. His execution would be the first in Tennessee since 2009, and the first to use the three-drug combination of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride (or, for legal reasons, slight variations of those drugs).

The bishops’ letter follows a July 9 lawsuit contending that the use of the three-drug cocktail constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment.” Tennessee currently has 62 men and one woman on death row, more than 30 of whom are party to the lawsuit. 

Tennessee transitioned to the three-drug cocktail in January when pentobarbital, the previous drug used in lethal injection, was no longer available. In a request to the Tennessee Supreme Court, state Attorney General Herbert Slater unsuccessfully sought to fast-track eight executions before some of the drugs expired on June 1. 

Concerns have been expressed about the new drugs’ effectiveness. In an email to state officials, a consultant charged with acquiring the new drugs highlighted midazolam’s weak analgesic effects, according to the Nashville Scene

“Here is my concern with Midazolam,” the consultant wrote in an email last September. “Being a benzodiazepine, it does not elicit strong analgesic effects. The subjects may be able to feel pain from the administration of the second and third drugs. Potassium chloride, especially.”

Midazolam has been cited as a cause in previous botched executions. In 2014, Clayton Lockett was administered the three drugs and declared unconscious in Oklahoma. He was then found to be able to speak and attempted to raise himself off his stretcher. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes into the execution. 

Currently, state supplies of two of the three drugs have now expired, leading Tennessee to seek compounded drugs, custom-made by pharmacies, as substitutes.

However, experts have warned against the dangers of compounded drugs, adding to previous concerns about midazolam. In June, lawyers for death row inmates in Tennessee pointed to the execution of Ricky Gray in Virginia last year. 

“Blood found on his lips indicated that blood entered Gray’s lungs while he was still breathing,” wrote the attorneys, noting the compounded drugs used in the execution may have caused a similar experience to “drowning or a sarin gas attack.”

Speaking beyond specific concerns with lethal injections, the Tennessee bishops wrote that capital punishment contributes to the erosion the dignity of the human person. The Tennesee bishops’ efforts echo Saint John Paul II’s stance against capital punishment, which in 1999 helped persuade Missuori Governor Mel Carnahan to commute the sentence of Darrell Mease to life in prison. 

“It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws,” the bishops wrote. “Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life.”

Surprise! Pope Francis unexpectedly celebrates Vatican wedding

Vatican City, Jul 16, 2018 / 04:22 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis surprised wedding guests Saturday when he unexpectedly celebrated a marriage being held at a small chapel in the Vatican Gardens.

“Look who came as a surprise! Pope Francis is always surprising!” said Brazilian Fr. Omar Reposo on his Instagram account.

The wedding - between Luca Schafer, a member of the Swiss Guard, and Letícia Vera, a former employee of the Vatican Museums, took place in the Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians, just outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Sources close to the couple told ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese language sister agency, that only the bride and groom know that Pope Francis was going to preside over the wedding. The pope’s arrival surprised the wedding guests, and the priests who concelebrated the wedding.

According to Vatican Media, the pope preached about three verbs that can help couples to experience the fullness of marriage: “to begin,” “to stop,” and “to resume the journey.”

This was not the first time that Pope Francis celebrated a wedding at the Vatican. In September 2014, the pope presided over the marriage of 20 couples in St. Peter’s Basilica and in July 2016 he did the same for a deaf couple in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

In Nicaragua, paramilitaries attack bishop and besiege church

Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 16, 2018 / 03:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This weekend, paramilitaries in Nicaragua attacked a car carrying the Bishop of Esteli, and in a separate incident pro-government forces besieged students in a parish church, killing two.

Protests against president Daniel Ortega which began April 18 have resulted in more than 300 deaths, according to local human rights groups. The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups.

Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara of Esteli was attacked in his car at a police checkpoint in Nindiri, about 15 miles southeast of Managua, July 15. He was returning from saying Mass. The paramilitaries damaged the car's tires and windows, and fired on the vehicle.

Together with his driver, Bishop Mata took shelter in a house which was surrounded by Ortega's supporters, who verbally harassed him for 90 minutes.

He was able to leave the house through the intervention of the Archdiocese of Managua, which intervened with the government to send general commissioner Ramon Avellan to guarantee the bishop's physical safety. Bishop Mata returned to Esteli by cover of dark.

Bishop Mata is among the mediators and witnesses in the national dialogue between the government and the opposition.

Also on Sunday, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua lamented that “police and paramilitaries” had entered a rectory and carried off “various belongings of the parish and of Fr. Jairo Velasquez”, who was unharmed. In his statement, the cardinal reiterated a call for the government and police to desist from “the attacks against the population” and to respect “the churches and rectories and personal articles of priests, which are used in humanitarian work.”

In Managua, around 150 student protesters who took refuge in Divine Mercy parish July 13 were able to leave the following day, after an intervention by the country's bishops.

The parish is near the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, where the students had been protesting during a national strike. They were attacked by the paramilitaries, and sought shelter in the church building, where they were besieged. Two student protesters died in the church from fire by the paramilitaries.

The students were transferred July 14 to Managua's Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where they received medical care.

Fr. Raul Zamora, pastor of Divine Mercy parish, and his vicar, Fr. Erick Alvarado, announced July 16 their appreciation for those who have helped to clean up the church, and said that the church will be closed through July 19. On July 20, a penitential Mass will be said “where we will implore the Mercy of God and the gift of conversion for our Nicaragua.” Normal Mass times and perpetual adoration will resume July 21.

The Nicaraguan bishops have announced a day of prayer and fasting July 20 in reparation for desecrations carried out in recent months.

In a July 14 statement, the bishops' conference said that since it began mediation between the government and the opposition in April, “we have witnessed the government's lack of political will to dialogue sincerely and to seek real processes that would lead us to a true democracy.”

They said Ortega's government has refused “to address the central themes of the agenda of democratization” and to dismantle the paramilitaries.

They denounced the repression by police and paramilitaries, whose attacks “are juridically and morally condemnable” and which have the objective “of sowing terror in the people who have manifested themselves peacefully.”

Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout Nicaragua, and clashes frequently turn lethal. Bishops and priests across the country have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.