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ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Thursday the Vatican was in contact with the Nicaraguan government about its crackdown on the Catholic Church and hoped “at the very least” that nuns from Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity religious order would be allowed to return to operations in the country.

Francis said he didn’t understand the government’s actions: it has forced out the Vatican ambassador, closed the Sisters of Charity local operation and placed a bishop under house arrest. But Francis stressed that the Vatican was not prepared to sever contact or relations with the Nicaraguan government.

“There is dialogue. That doesn’t mean we approve of everything the government is doing, or disapprove of it. There is dialogue,” he said. “When there’s dialogue it means we must resolve problems. In this moment, there are problems.”

Speaking while traveling home from a trip to Kazakhstan, Francis termed Managua’s expulsion of Ambassador Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag a “serious diplomatic” incident, especially since the ambassador was very capable diplomat, who has recently been appointed to head the Vatican’s embassy in West Africa.

Francis said he hoped at least the Sisters of Charity could return.

“These women are great revolutionaries, of the Gospel. They aren’t making war against anyone. Actually, we all need them. One cannot understand this gesture. But we hope they can go back.”

The Vatican has been exceedingly measured in its public reaction to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown, limiting itself to a statement of concern after Sommertag was forced out as the Holy See’s ambassador and then again last month when Matagalpa Bishop Rolando Alvarez was put under house arrest.

Vatican officials have said they haven’t wanted to escalate the conflict by publicly admonishing Ortega’s administration. Sommertag’s appointment in West Africa creates a formal opening in the Vatican’s Managua embassy that the Vatican would presumably seek to fill with someone else if the Ortega government approves his credentials.


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