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Miami archbishop offers to house exiled Nicaraguan priests, seminarians

Former Nicaraguan presidential hopeful Felix Maradiaga, one of the more than 200 freed political prisoners from Nicaragua, is embraced by a supporter outside a hotel after arriving in the United States at Dulles International Airport in Virginia Feb. 9, 2023. Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski said Feb. 11 some of the exiled Nicaraguans, who included four or five priests, a couple of seminarians and a deacon, were expected to arrive in the Miami Archdiocese. (OSV News photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

MIAMI (OSV News) — Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski spoke to the Florida Catholic Feb. 11 about the expected arrival in Miami of some of the political prisoners released by the Nicaraguan government and flown to the U.S. Feb. 9.

“Most of the people expelled were politicians or candidates for public office that (Daniel) Ortega locked up before the elections,” the archbishop said, but among them were “four or five priests, a couple of seminarians, a deacon and an organist.”

Although they would be taken in at first by Nicaraguan families, Archbishop Wenski said he offered the priests and seminarians longer term housing at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami.

“I’m offering them the hospitality of the seminary as well as the opportunity to get acclimated, acculturated and see what the next steps would be after that,” he said. At the seminary they could take “intensive English classes” while finalizing their immigration paperwork.

Although the expectation is that many of the priests and seminarians would stay in Miami, “I’ve already heard from a few bishops who need Spanish-speaking priests who would be happy to help them out,” Archbishop Wenski said.

He added that Catholic Charities and Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami were standing by to provide aid and to help the exiles with their immigration paperwork.

“Refugees or migrants arriving in Miami is sort of like a summer thunderstorm,” the archbishop said, noting that a few days earlier 114 Haitians had arrived by boat.

The Nicaraguans were expected to arrive from Washington Feb. 12 and take part in the 1 p.m. Mass normally celebrated at St. Agatha Church by exiled Nicaraguan Bishop Silvio José Báez, auxiliary bishop of Managua. He was expected to hold a news conference after the Mass.

Bishop Báez was forced to leave Nicaragua in 2019 after receiving death threats for his criticism of Ortega’s government. He now teaches Scripture at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach but celebrates that weekly Mass at St. Agatha, which is livestreamed via Facebook to Nicaragua.

St. Agatha’s pastor, Father Marcos Somarriba, is a native of Nicaragua. The parish is located near an area of Miami known as Sweetwater, which, since the late 1970s, has been home to a large concentration of Nicaraguan exiles.

“Miami is the epicenter for the Nicaraguan community in the U.S. just like Miami is the epicenter for the Cuban community,” Archbishop Wenski said.

“There’s a lot of pathos in this whole thing,” he added, because a few days earlier, speaking in front of Cuban government officials Feb. 8 at the University of Havana, a papal envoy, Cardinal Benjamin Stella, had mentioned a potential amnesty for those jailed in Cuba after the anti-government protests in July 2021. Cardinal Stella was visiting the island to mark the 25-year anniversary of the historic visit of St. John Paul II.

“What happened in Nicaragua could be something similar to what might happen in Cuba with those political prisoners, so Miami might be on an emotional roller coaster the next few weeks,” Archbishop Wenski said.

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