NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER - Joan Frawley Desmond - FEB 17, 2023
A Washington, D.C., pastor describes the emotion-filled Mass and harrowing stories of prison life before the deportees were expelled from the country, along with hundreds of political prisoners.
HYATTSVILLE, Md. — The private chapel at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ imposing, multistoried building in the nation’s capital typically draws a stream of USCCB staff and visiting prelates who want to celebrate Mass and are pleased to take advantage of a convenient venue for that purpose.
But on Feb. 10, the USCCB chapel was the first stop for eight exiled Nicaraguan priests who had been prevented from celebrating Mass for six months following their imprisonment by the Nicaraguan government.
On Feb. 9, the previous day, the priests were taken from their prison cells and brought to Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport in Managua, where they were transported from their homeland to Washington, D.C., on a flight organized by the U.S. State Department.
The priests were part of a group of 222 Nicaraguan deportees — most of them political prisoners — who were allowed to leave the country following negotiations between the Biden administration and the authoritarian regime headed by Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo.
“The Nicaraguan priests wanted to celebrate Mass, and all of us present were in tears” during the service, said Father Roberto Jose Cortes Campos, the Nicaraguan-born pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, who participated in the Mass celebrated at the USCCB chapel.
The following day, Father Cortes-Campos hosted the group, which included eight priests, two seminarians and a deacon, for Mass at his own parish, located near The Catholic University of America.