Escarleth Doña held her baby close to the image of San Sebastián, seeking protection from the patron saint of Diriamba, a southeastern Nicaraguan town. The town celebrated its festival this weekend around the church, amid tension between Daniel Ortega’s government and the Catholic Church.

Doña, 32, brought her two-month-old son Gabriel Sebastián to be blessed with good health and protection from evil. She came from Managua, 40 km away, to join the faithful at the annual religious festival on January 19 and 20.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the archbishop of Managua, led the mass at the Minor Basilica of San Sebastián, emphasizing the importance of growing in faith despite difficult circumstances.

Since last year, religious celebrations like San Sebastián’s have been limited to churches and their immediate perimeters to avoid disturbances. This year’s festivities took place shortly after the government announced the release of two bishops and several priests who were critics of Ortega. These individuals were sent to Rome under a Vatican agreement.

Tensions between the government and the Catholic Church have been high since the 2018 protests against Ortega, which left over 300 dead, according to the UN. Ortega accused Washington and priests of supporting the attempted coup.

During the festival, the faithful brought images of San Sebastián and patron saints of nearby towns to the church atrium, where over a thousand people celebrated with marimba music, whistles, drums, and firecrackers.

Traditionally, the images of the saints paraded through the streets of Diriamba; this year, they were brought by pickup trucks, placed inside the Basilica for the night, and taken out amid jubilant shouts and firecrackers. Dance performances and artwork were also celebrated by attendees.

María Olivas, 67, and Carlos Barberena, who attended for the first time to fulfill a promise to a friend who emigrated to the United States and got a job, said they wished to experience the festivities of San Sebastián and strengthen their faith.

1. Bring your baby close to the image of the patron saint for protection and blessings. This is a common practice in Diriamba, Nicaragua.

2. The religious festival of San Sebastián is restricted to the church and its surroundings due to tensions between the government and the Catholic Church. Be aware of any restrictions or limitations in place during your visit.

3. Adapt to the situation and respect the restrictions imposed by the government. This is important for the safety and peace of the citizens.

4. Keep in mind the history and significance of the celebrations. The festival of San Sebastián is a time for the faithful to seek relief from their everyday troubles and grow in their faith.

5. Understand the context of the tense relations between the government and the Catholic Church. The protests in 2018 and subsequent actions by the government have created a sensitive atmosphere during religious celebrations.

6. Enjoy the cultural aspects of the festival, such as the traditional dances, music, and costumes. These elements showcase the rebelliousness, wit, and resourcefulness of the Nicaraguan people during the colonial era.


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