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Miami archbishop offers to house exiled Nicaraguan priests, seminarians

MIAMI | Archbishop Thomas Wenski spoke to the Florida Catholic Feb. 11, 2023, about the expected arrival in Miami of some of the political prisoners released by the Nicaraguan government and flown to the U.S.

“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.”

In this file photo, Archbishop Thomas Wenski poses in his office with Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez, who visited April 26, 2019, after being forced to leave Nicaragua due to his outspoken support of those protesting Daniel Ortega's regime. Bishop Baez now teaches at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach and has been helping to arrange housing for the 200 or so political prisoners released by the Nicaraguan government Feb. 9, 2023.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

In this file photo, Archbishop Thomas Wenski poses in his office with Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez, who visited April 26, 2019, after being forced to leave Nicaragua due to his outspoken support of those protesting Daniel Ortega's regime. Bishop Baez now teaches at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach and has been helping to arrange housing for the 200 or so political prisoners released by the Nicaraguan government Feb. 9, 2023.

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 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 arrived from Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Feb. 12, and took part in the 1 p.m. Mass normally celebrated at St. Agatha Church by exiled Nicaraguan Bishop Silvio José Baez, auxiliary bishop of Managua. He spoke to the Florida Catholic's sister paper in Miami, La Voz Católica, after the Mass. (That story will be posted later today.)

Bishop Baez 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 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.

Comments from readers

Valli Leone - 02/15/2023 06:15 PM
How wonderful this is! Thank you, dear Archbishop, for the compassion, the mercy and the providence that lives in your heart. And thank you, Lord God, for making their transition, smooth, loving, and filled with joy. It’s all about you, Jesus! πŸ”†πŸ™ŒπŸΌπŸ”†