A 400-year-old crucifix was set ablaze when Managua Cathedral suffered the latest in a series of anti-Christian incidents in Nicaragua.
According to the Archdiocese of Managua, on Friday (31st July) a man entered the cathedral’s Chapel of the Precious Blood, and threw a firebomb at a seventeenth-century statue of the crucifixion, known as the Blood of Christ.
The historic wooden statue, which Pope St John Paul II prayed before during his visit to the country in 1996, was seriously damaged.
According to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, witnesses saw a man wearing a hood and holding an unidentifiable object enter the chapel and say “I come to the Blood of Christ”, before throwing the incendiary device he was carrying.
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua said that witnesses also saw the man circling the cathedral for 20 minutes before torching the cross.
The arsonist made his escape through a gateway whose door had been recently stolen.
Cardinal Brenes said: “In other words, he calculated everything – how to enter, where to do it, and then where to escape.”
He added: “This was a planned act, very calmly planned. So I want to say it clearly – it is a terrorist act, an act of intimidating the Church in her mission of evangelisation.”
The arson attack is the latest in a string of attacks on Nicaragua’s Catholic churches.
Over the last fortnight, there have been three similar incidents, including a break in on Wednesday (29th July) at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Nindiri, Masaya.
At the church, images were broken, benches and other items of furniture were damaged and the ciborium was stolen after the tabernacle was forced open.
Hosts were also trampled during the attack.
A statement issued by the Archdiocese of Managua on the same day that the 382-year-old crucifix was burnt, categorically denied earlier reports by Rosario Murillo, the country’s Vice-president and First Lady, that the statue was damaged in an accident involving burning candles.
The archdiocese stressed that for safety reasons no candles are allowed in the chapel where the historic image is kept.
The fire bombing follows tensions between the Church and President Ortega – last September during anti-government protests the president accused the Church of being “committed to the plan of the coup plotters”.
Aid to the Church in Need’s executive president, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, condemned the arson, adding “We wish to express our closeness to the Catholics of the country at this difficult time and assure them of the support of our prayers.
“This is the most recent incident in a string of anti-Christian attacks, not only against buildings, but against the Catholic faith as well.
“We hope that the person or persons responsible for this attack will quickly be brought to justice.”
At the Angelus yesterday (2nd August), Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of Nicaragua following the attack.