October 7, 2022

Faith leads Nicaraguan family to leave all behind for a new life in the United States

(En español)

Felix Navarrete, right, and his wife Paholla, fourth from left, three of their children and his parents pose on March 27, 2018, with Bishop Rolando Alvarez in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. (Submitted photo)

Felix Navarrete, right, and his wife Paholla, fourth from left, three of their children and his parents pose on March 27, 2018, with Bishop Rolando Alvarez in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Felix and Paholla Navarrete were saddened but not surprised by the images coming out of their home country of Nicaragua in early August.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, was seen kneeling in prayer outside his home, his arms raised up in prayer, with members of the national police in riot gear standing nearby.

The police had surrounded his home after the government accused the bishop—without evidence—of organizing violent opposition to it.

Bishop Álvarez was eventually seized by the police in a pre-dawn raid on Aug. 19 and taken to live under house arrest in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital.

In addition to the actions taken against Bishop Álvarez, the Nicaraguan government of President Daniel Ortega has expelled the country’s apostolic nuncio and members of the Missionaries of Charity serving there, arrested priests, shut down Catholic radio stations and banned outdoor religious processions.

(Related story: Nicaraguan Catholic in Indianapolis shares story of generations of suffering)

In a recent address, Ortega described the country’s Catholic leaders as “a gang of murderers” who operate with Pope Francis “a perfect dictatorship.”

Felix and Paholla are well familiar with both the place the Church has in Nicaraguan society and the government’s opposition to it. The husband and wife were active in the Church and worked for the country’s supreme court before moving to Indianapolis in 2018.

“For the government in Nicaragua, the Catholic Church has been for many years the main enemy, because the Church in Nicaragua represents the people,” Paholla said. “It speaks up for the people.

“Ortega is afraid of Bishop Álvarez because Bishop Álvarez is a true leader of the people. If something happened to Bishop Álvarez, many people will take to the streets, march and protest.”

The growing opposition of the Nicaraguan government to the Church made life difficult for the Navarretes in 2018.

Félix and Paholla Navarrete kneel in prayer Sept. 1 at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Félix and Paholla Navarrete kneel in prayer Sept. 1 at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

In the spring of that year, student demonstrators across the country protested against government corruption and its repression of freedom. Hundreds died in violent suppression of the marchers.

“Our churches had wide open doors,” Felix said of the Church in Nicaragua’s response to the protests. “They helped the people who needed a safe place to stay. All the priests that I knew were working very closely with their parishioners. It was so inspiring seeing that our Church was very close to the people who were suffering.”

During the time of the protests, Felix and Paholla started to experience pressure to publicly support the government.

“We were called to go to marches against the students,” Felix said. “I told my wife that I wasn’t going to do any of what these people were asking me to do. She had the same position.”

“The political secretary would try to trap employees,” Paholla said. “They’d say that if you want to keep your job, you have to do whatever needs to be done at the protests against citizens who are marching.”

Felix and Paholla faced a life-changing choice: stay in Nicaragua with their well-established life? Or leave it all behind with no going back?

“We got to the point where we were thinking about what would be better,” said Paholla. “To stay for a position with a salary, or to show your children what was the right thing to do?”

With such a momentous decision looming, the family went to God in prayer.

“We prayed together as a family, and we asked God to guide us to take the right steps,” Paholla said.

“We took a step of faith,” said Felix. “It was the hand of God that was working in every step. We saw it. We felt it.”

They left in early June for Costa Rica for what appeared to be a vacation. Only their family knew of their plans. Felix and Paholla didn’t quit their jobs at the supreme court or do anything with their home to make it appear that they were leaving permanently.

“If we had done that, we would have been in trouble,” Felix said.

“If we had stayed, we’d probably have become political prisoners,” Paholla said. “We would not have given up our faith for anything. We’d have been considered traitors by the government.”

In Costa Rica, they were surprised by being able to quickly secure visas for the family from the U.S. embassy there to travel to the U.S. By the end of June, they had arrived in Indianapolis where Paholla’s mother lives.

“I have always been confident in what God has planned for me and my family,” Felix said. “So, even when I thought that I would be in terrible danger if I stayed in my country, I always saw that God was acting in my life.”

Looking back on the decision they made four years ago, Paholla knows they could have only made it because of their faith.

“If we hadn’t been involved in service in the Church for several years before coming to the United States, we probably wouldn’t have made the decision to move here,” she said. “We were moved by faith. We were confident in what God wanted us to do.”

Within six months of arriving in the U.S., the Navarette family was well established in Indianapolis. Felix found a job in accounting, and their children were enrolled at Holy Spirit School. They are now members of of Holy Spirit and Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary parishes, both in Indianapolis.

In the years since then, Felix has begun leading retreats for Hispanics in the Catholic charismatic renewal movement. He and Paholla also teach natural family planning classes in Spanish for the archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life.

From 7-9:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral, 1347 N. Meridian St., in Indianapolis, Felix will help lead a bilingual eucharistic adoration prayer service for peace in Nicaragua.

“It’s amazing how God is using us now,” Felix said. “I’m happy for the life that we’re having now. I can say that I wouldn’t change anything.”

(For more information about the prayer service, contact Navarrete at 317-597-3751 or at felixjavierministry@gmail.com.)

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