Pope Francis offered prayers for the people of Nicaragua on Sunday, following a recent firebomb attack on the Catholic cathedral in Managua.

On Friday, a hooded man threw a firebomb into the Managua Cathedral, which caused severe damage to the interior of the chapel, including a much-venerated 382-year-old depiction of the crucifixion known as the Blood of Christ.

The Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa reported that before throwing the firebomb the unidentified man exclaimed: “I come to the blood of Christ.”

After the attack, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua said that the statue had been badly charred and that “half of the face came off” due to the fire. “We are going to evaluate this calmly because it is a beautiful image, more than 300 years old,” he said.

Cardinal Brenes added that witnesses had seen the man circle the cathedral prior to the attack and arrange his escape through a gate outside which had earlier been stolen. “In other words, he calculated everything: how to enter, where to do it, and then where to escape,” he said. “So I want to say it clearly: it is a terrorist act, an act of intimidating the Church in her mission of evangelization.”

The attack took place amid rising tensions between many Catholics and the supporters of President Daniel Ortega.

The Nicaraguan government has previously denounced the Church as “coup mongers” and “terrorists” for supporting new elections to end the country’s current political crisis.

President Ortega, who ruled the country from 1979-1990 after ousting the Somoza dictatorship, returned to the presidency following the national elections in 2006, a position which he has held to this day. Ortega abolished presidential term limits in 2014 and has overseen a crackdown on anti-government protests which have cost at least 320 lives according to human rights organizations.

Last year, government supporters raided Managua cathedral and attacked a priest and religious sister. The cathedral was then providing sanctuary to hunger strikers who were demanding the release of political prisoners in Nicaragua. Upon regaining control of the cathedral, the local Archdiocese called for a day of prayer and reparation in response to the events.

Speaking at his Angelus address on August 2, Pope Francis condemned the recent firebomb attack and offered prayers for the Church in Nicaragua.

“Dear brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, I am near you and am praying for you,” the Pope said.

“I am thinking of the people of Nicaragua who are suffering because of the attack in the Cathedral of Managua, where an image of Christ that is highly venerated, that has accompanied and sustained the life of the faithful people for centuries, was greatly damaged — almost destroyed.”

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Praise the Lord

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