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  Number 21 | Marzo 1983
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Nicaragua

OTHER EVENTS AND CONCLUSIONS

Envío team

This outline has been limited to presenting only a partial list of actions taken by the Reagan Administration and events which occurred in Nicaragua during the month of February.

Not everything is included. We could also mention the continuing "democratic-solidarity" movement. A few examples of personages or groups which have visited Nicaragua would include Finnish and French parliamentarian delegations; Antoine Blanca, French Ambassador at Large for Latin America; academics from various countries; and solidarity brigades.

Nicaragua has also been represented internationally by Foreign Minister D'Escoto in visits to both North and South Yemen, Canada and India. To the latter country he headed an important delegation to participate in the Non Aligned Movement summit meeting, where Nicaragua was President of the Economic Commission. Comandante Henry Ruiz traveled to the Democratic Republic of Germany, and Fr. Ernesto Cardenal was a special guest of Francois Mitterand for an important cultural event in France.

Mention must also be made of the number of deaths, disappearances and wounded as a result of continual battles with the Somocista units on the northern border. One day before the Pope arrived in Nicaragua, seventeen young reservists of the Sandinista Youth Association were buried. They had been members of Reserve Battalion 3062 and were killed in the northern part of the department of Matagalpa.

Acting Foreign Minister Nora Astorga sent a note to the Honduran officials, which was published on February 24 and said that between January 20 and February 17 there had been 15 persons killed, 30 wounded and 11 kidnapped (all either members of the Sandinista armed forces or reserve battalions or campesinos). During that same period there were 20 Somocista incursions into Nicaragua from Honduran territory.

The following conclusions can be drawn from the facts and events listed in this outline:

1. During the month of February, the Reagan Administration carried out intense military activity in the form of military exercises in distinct regions of the world, accompanied by a political diplomatic offensive. In our judgment, the nature of this offensive was defined both by intense diplomatic efforts and by the high rank of those involved: four of the most important persons in the Reagan Administration. Without doubt, the existence of serious problems in various parts of the world was one of the reasons for this surprising activity. But, it is also the beginning of the Republicans' third year in office and the beginning of the electoral campaign. There are several extremely important questions right now, one of which is the resolution of the Salvadoran situation, which, as more time goes by, will mean even greater cost to the Republican election hopes for 1984.

2. The Nicaraguan process was characterized during the month of February by massive mobilizations at various levels and marked efforts for structural consolidation of the mass organizations (CST, AMNLAE, etc.). This was evident not only during meetings, assemblies and political gatherings, but especially in production, (coffee and cotton harvests) and in health and education. Also important were the efforts taken to consolidate important aspects of life here, like housing and political activity (the Housing and the Political Parties Laws).

JOHN PAUL II IN NICARAGUA

John Paul II was in Nicaragua eleven hours, on the second stage of his journey to Central America. In order to be minimally correct, any analysis or account of this short papal visit requires familiarity with what was the long preparation for the trip. Here we tell the story, step by step.

Chronicle Report on the Pope's trip

BEFORE THE POPE'S TRIP

The Pope's stay in Nicaragua lasted only eleven hours. Any analysis, or even any report of this brief papal visit, requires an examination of the lengthy preparations for the trip.

Some general data to take into consideration include the following:
On February 6 the Nicaraguan Government Junta officially announced that the Pope would come to the country. National and departmental committees were immediately created not only to guarantee the Pope's safety and give him a proper welcome, but also to facilitate transportation of people to the main events of the program: the Celebration of the Word in Leon and the outdoor Mass in Managua. As early as mid December, problems over the trip had arisen between the Archbishop of Managua and the Curia office, on the one hand, and members of the government, on the other. There were polemics both at a national and international level. There were verbal confrontations, public declarations and preparatory meetings of the clergy. These did not question the importance of the visit nor the spiritual quality of the visitor but were centered around the organization of the public acts, details of protocol, the preeminence of certain personalities, forms of mobilization, etc. These differences never completely disappeared, but as the date of the Pope's visit approached, some unity was achieved.

The ideological problems that existed and are normal in a conflictive situation such as exists in Nicaragua became practical problems that had to be resolved together in order that the visit turn out well both in pastoral and religious dimensions and as an act of national unity.

Both the government and the Church the sector committed to the revolutionary process as well as that opposed to it channeled human efforts and material resources of all types.

The Nicaraguan people prepared extensively for this visit. The importance of the visit did not escape anyone. The Christian Base Communities, community organizations and many other groups, both church-affiliated and not, dedicated much time and energy to preparing themselves to receive the Pope. The group called "Catholics of Nicaragua" published four pamphlets in order to provide written material, pedagogically oriented, for the faithful to use in this preparation: "The Journeys of the Pope" (a selection of speeches of John Paul II in other Latin American countries); "The Pope in Christ's Church" (doctrine on the Church and the Pope's function of service); "Holy Father, This is Central America" (a social and theological reflection on the actual situation in the area and the aspirations of the people); and "Holy Father, This is Nicaragua" (a brief biography of the Pope and a brief history of the Nicaraguan process). Almost one million of these pamphlets circulated throughout the country, reaching most of the people. They were also reproduced by Catholic groups in Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador, and were well received. This is only one example of how, for more than a month, the Nicaraguan people became aware of the importance that this trip had for the entire country. Above all, they were becoming aware of the importance of the Pope's understanding of the Nicaraguan situation.

Preparations were expressed in a variety of ways. Many Christian Base Communities wrote joint letters to the Pope, in which they expressed their hopes for the trip. People made up slogans, songs, banners. Newspapers and radio stations, of all tendencies, created a climate of great expectation. The pro-government media stressed the theme that the Pope will help us to obtain peace and will denounce the U.S. threats of aggression. In the opposition media much emphasis was placed on the religious character of the trip and the expectations were more vague: the Pope is coming to bless us. The expectations of the Christians committed to the revolutionary process could be concretized in these two slogans: "Welcome to free Nicaragua, thanks to God and the Revolution"; and "Between Christianity and Revolution, there is no contradiction." The slogans used by those Christians opposed to the process were more generic: "I am happy, the Pope is coming"; "John Paul II, Nicaragua is waiting for you." The opposition sectors emphasized that it was Catholic Nicaragua that was waiting for the Pope and that would receive him. Although 13% of the Nicaraguan population is Protestant, there were no problems of an ecumenical type. There was no commercialization of the Pope's image. There were no objects with his picture for sale and the posters and flags which nearly all the groups had were practically free.

Given the climate of national expectation over the Pope's visit and given the real polarization of tendencies within the Church, accentuated during the last year, the government, at the highest levels, drew clear guidelines in order to carry out all the details of the preparations and the public acts of the visit. It was impossible for the government to leave all this in the hands of the bishops due to the complexity of the security measures necessary and to the infrastructure that it was necessary to utilize for such a visit. Preparations were carried out by the government with a policy of great respect for the figure of the Pontiff and of national hospitality. The communications media, for over a month, had reflected this policy in a way that was clear for all readers. At the same time, leaders of community organizations who were in charge of transporting the people gave clear instructions to those participating that every effort should be made so that everyone who wished to attend could do so. Non believers were also encouraged to attend, given the national responsibility to welcome such a great personality.

The majority of the Nicaraguan people wanted to see the Pope. At the same time, they expected much from him. And if one were to look for some expression which reflected the difficult unity that the announced visit of the Pope was achieving, it was in this wish, "We want peace!" Practically all Nicaraguans were united in that desire. Naturally there were variations in what different people understood by "peace”. It is certain, however, that no one wanted problems during the Pope's visit. In many ways this was something too big for Nicaragua: with a weak and impoverished infrastructure, a shortage of resources, a situation of military and economic threats and an intense ideological debate in the area of religion. The Pope was very "large" for the small and unstructured Nicaragua. The preparations of this visit cost the Nicaraguan government approximately $3 million, and two months supply of gasoline was used in bringing the people to Managua.

THE POPE'S VISIT

We will present an account of the hours that the Pope spent in Nicaragua, concentrating on the principal act of the visit, the Mass in the 19th of July Plaza.

THE ARRIVAL

The papal plane landed at the Augusto C. Sandino Airport in Managua at 9:15 a.m. The decorations in the airport and the reception of the delegation were excessively somber. There was a "poor" showing in comparison with that offered the Pope in other Central American airports where there were huge joyous crowds.

There were two banners that said, "Welcome to free Nicaragua, the land of Sandino", and "The young people and the children of Nicaragua want peace." Those present included the diplomatic corps, an honor battalion of the army, the cabinet, the Junta of the Government of National Reconstruction, the National Directorate of the FSLN, and the Episcopal Conference, along with a small group representing the Association of Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs and disabled war veterans .

The balcony of the building was full, but it has a limited capacity. The public present clearly represented the two tendencies in the church, and shouts of "Viva Obando" were clearly audible during the official greeting of the Pope. In the airport, as in the other acts which took place that day, three flags could be seen waving: the blue and white of Nicaragua, the yellow and white of the Vatican, and the red and black of the FSLN. There was a strong breeze which united the flags a symbol of the difficult reconciliation of diverse expressions and plans with which the Nicaraguans came out to meet the Pope.

From the moment that he left the airplane, John Paul II looked tired, cold, distant. There were signs of tension both in his face and in his gestures. This was noticeable to almost all who were present.

The welcoming speech by Comandante Daniel Ortega, Coordinator of the Government Junta, centered around several paragraphs, read textually, from the 1912 letter sent by then Bishop of Leon, Simeon Pereira y Castellon to the North American Cardinal James Carl Simpson during the time of the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua. In the letter, the Nicaraguan bishop condemned U.S. intervention in very strong, emotional and rhetorical phrases and asked for Christian support from the United States bishops to put an end to the occupation. "Sixty two years later," said Ortega at the end of the letter, "the words of Simeon Pereira y Castellon are still timely, since that same U.S. policy does not permit this people's wounds to heal wounds which the U.S. itself opened."

The opening speech made reference to the seventeen young Sandinistas who had been killed four days earlier and who had been given homage the day before in the Plaza where the Pope was going to celebrate the outdoor Mass. Ortega detailed U.S. aggressions against Nicaragua and spoke of Central America, "shaken by the people's hunger and thirst for justice and by the power of those who, through blood and fire, deny the people this right." Ortega also referred to El Salvador, where "it is the United States who is intervening more and more in the defense of an unjust and lost cause." The Junta Coordinator reaffirmed the "vocation of peace" of the Nicaraguan people and government; he ratified the FSLN statement of principles regarding religious liberty of October, 1980. He pointed out that the document contains the key by which the Pope could understand the actual situation in which a majority of the believing people of Nicaragua would receive him. "Our experience shows us that one can be a believer and at the same time a conscientious revolutionary, and that there are no irresolvable contradictions between the two." The only reference to the conflict within the Church was, "Holy Father, our revolution has been attacked from every angle imaginable, and the political confrontations have been manifested in every area."

The speech of Ortega took longer than the time allotted. The Nuntiature had shown no interest in knowing its contents ahead of time. The long quote of the Bishop of Leon in 1921 was confusing. Many listeners thought that they were Daniel Ortega's own words directed to the Pope. The harshness of the selected paragraphs and the sharpness of tone bothered some. All these details point out that the Pope's trip and the events in Managua cannot be understood if they are separated from a context in which gestures, problems of language and communication take on capital importance, as was vividly shown in the Plaza.

The Pope's response to Comandante Ortega was more brief. The most significant part of his speech referred to peace in the area: "In the name of the one who gave his life for the liberation and redemption of all persons, I would like to make my contribution to the cessation of suffering of innocent peoples in this area of the world, that the bloody conflicts, hatred and sterile accusations would come to an end, leaving room for genuine dialogue ... I also come to make a call for peace to those, in or out of this geographic area wherever they are found who foment in one way or another ideological, economic or military tensions that impede the free development of those people who love peace, fraternity, and true human, spiritual, social, civil and democratic progress." The Pope received enthusiastic applause.

The allusion of the Pope which he would repeat in his farewell words "to the thousands and thousands of Nicaraguans who could not come to the public acts, as they wanted" was somewhat confusing. He specified the sick, children, victims of injustice who had suffered because of violence, those who are serving the good of the nation. The theme of "those who could not come to see the Pope" had been a constant complaint voiced by spokespersons for the Curia and by Bishop Obando himself in statements to the international press or in local broadcasts. (Radio Catolica, which belongs to the Archdiocese , urged the people to come "on foot, on burro, but don't let anything stop you...”)

The most remarkable event at the airport, both as news and as a symbolic gesture, was Ernesto Cardenal's greeting to the Pope. The exact sequence of events is still not clear. What is clear is that: Cardenal, taking off his customary black beret, knelt down before the Pope in a gesture of humility; the Pope raised his fingers in a gesture of admonition; Cardenal wanted to kiss the Pope's ring but the Pope withdrew his hand; and the meeting ended with another inclination of Cardenal toward the Pope.

Of the five priests who hold government offices and are therefore in a “situation of exception" (they cannot celebrate Mass either publicly or privately, either in Nicaragua or outside the country), only two were in Managua on the day of the Pope's arrival: Ernesto Cardenal and his brother, Fernando Cardenal. The latter was not at the airport but he was on the platform at the outdoor Mass, although he never came in contact with the Pope as did Ernesto,

At the airport, a gesture of symbolic importance went unnoticed by the reporters as they were watching the Pope, who had left the runway in the direction of the helicopter. Nor was it captured by the Nicaraguan television cameras, although it was related over national radio. Near the papal plane, the members of the FSLN National Directorate were gathered on one side and the bishops of the Episcopal Conference on the other, somewhat apart. The act of welcome had ended, and before leaving the airport, as through the initiative of Comandante Tomas Borge, the two groups embraced each other and shook hands. The public applauded this gesture, which symbolized the unity that everyone hoped would come out of the papal visit.

IN LEON

The Pope's visit to Leon included a brief stop at the Cathedral and a public appearance at the University Medical Campus.

The Pope's stop at the Cathedral was primarily one of recollection and rest. Within the church, a group of sick and elderly people received the Pope's blessing. At the Cathedral, the Pope remarked that he was happy to be there as it was his "first meeting in a sacred place with the Catholics of Nicaragua." Upon greeting the priests and religious of Leon and the whole country, he said to them, "Now from this moment I assure you that I understand your difficulties." He also sent a special greeting “to the faithful of Leon, to those who have suffered and suffer for many reasons and injustices". The Pope prayed for a few minutes before the sanctuary.

As the Pope was leaving the church, a group of musicians played the song most associated with Leon, “Viva Leon!” The Pope looked strained, both in his face and in his gestures.

The Pope went by helicopter to the University Medical Campus, where 100,000 persons awaited him. They were predominantly campesinos who had come from the outlying areas to the city for the Celebration of the Word. The intense heat in Leon where it is always hotter than in Managua was very draining for the sea of humanity waiting in the field. There was a continual coming and going of people, some of whom began to leave when the Pope had barely begun to speak. The largest banner in the field was a representation of the Pope together with the late Bishop Romero of El Salvador.

The theme of the papal speech, which was known beforehand, was the role of laity in education. At the beginning of his discourse, the Pope made a remark that received loud applause. "I greet you with a great deal of affection, especially the victims of violence which frequently is unleashed on us or of natural catastrophes." The words that followed were confusing to the people although understandable in the overall plan of the Central American papal visit: "In the overall plan of my visit to this geographic area, I will speak specifically to the campesinos from Panama. Today I direct myself to those persons who in Nicaragua and in the other countries dedicate themselves in one form or another to education in the faith..." This seemed to have disheartened some, since the majority of those who were listening were campesinos. The educational theme and the difficult language used by the Pope seemed less than adequate for that particular situation.

John Paul II made a reference to "the collaboration toward an ever greater literacy and scholastic level." Two statements seem very important in Nicaragua today, where a new form of education is being developed: “Education is demeaned when it becomes mere instruction, because the simple fragmentary accumulation of techniques, methods and information cannot satisfy a person's hunger and thirst for the truth..."; and "the passionate love for the truth" is a criterion for discerning a correct education. With a rising voice, the Pope insisted on the right of parents to educate their children in the faith and not in programs inspired by "atheism." The reference to atheism brought applause from some groups, which became contagious. The Pope also called on Nicaraguan educators to create in their students "hearts large and serene in love of country and, based on that, builders of peace."

At the end of his homily the Pope was given a long applause. The crowd shouted, "John Paul II, the whole world loves you," to which His Holiness responded on two occasions, "And John Paul II loves the whole world! Especially the educators in the faith in Nicaragua!"

The people's participation in the liturgy was especially expressive during the prayer of the faithful. The petition by a woman to pray "for the young people who have given their lives and for the strength to forgive those who put our homes in mourning..." brought applause. In that prayer, the woman expressed what was a noticeable omission later in Managua. Most people wanted to listen to something about what is happening in the country and to hear it from the Pope or from the people expressing themselves in front of His Holiness.

In spite of the fact that the Pope had little contact with the people of Leon, he appeared if not radiant at least satisfied at this public meeting with the Nicaraguans.

IN THE CESAR AUGUSTO SILVA CENTER

From Leon, the Pope was taken by helicopter to the Cesar Augusto Silva Center in Managua. By then, it was after noon. There, at the Center, he was to meet with the authorities: The Government Junta and the National Directorate of the FSLN. The Center was decorated with sprays of yellow flowers, which also formed the greeting, "Welcome, Holy Father." When he arrived, a folk group performed a typical dance from Masaya for him: "Bitter Mate." The Pope stopped only a short time to watch it. In the Center, a group of mothers of Heroes and Martyrs, in mourning, greeted him and gave him a letter in which they asked his intercession in achieving peace in Nicaragua and in ending the border aggressions. A group of disabled war veterans and a group of children from the Sandinista Children's Association were with the mothers. The Pope's greeting to the people was rather cool. Shortly after this brief encounter, he greeted representatives of the Patriotic Front, of which the FSLN is a part, and members of the Ramiro Sacasa Coordinating Committee, the opposition groups. This meeting had not been previously announced and was decided upon at the last minute by the Government Junta.

The Pope, Cardinal Casaroli and other members of the entourage then met for a half hour with the Government Junta and the Directorate of the FSLN. According to later reports from unofficial sources, the meeting was cordial, but the Pope seemed to have little interest in responding to the suggested topics. At the end of this meeting, the Pope met for seven minutes alone with Comandante Daniel Ortega.

When the Pope left the Center, he and his entourage were taken in the open "popemobile" (which His Holiness used in Mexico) to the Apostolic Nuntiature. Along the way, hundreds of Nicaraguans, forming a security cordon, waved and shouted both religious and political slogans. At the Nuntiature, the Pope met with the Episcopal Conference. Nothing is known about this meeting, either officially or unofficially. He then ate and rested before his appearance at the Plaza.

THE MASS IN THE 19TH OF JULY PLAZA

The 19th of July Plaza, where the Pope celebrated the outdoor Mass, has an area of 60,000 square meters. It is estimated that between 600,000 and 700,000 persons filled the Plaza and the surrounding area on the afternoon of March 4. It was the largest concentration of people in the history of Nicaragua and the second largest during the Pope's Central American visit, surpassed only by Guatemala City.

This plaza was built for the celebration of the First Anniversary of the Revolution, in 1980. The rostrum was also built at that time, but was remodeled in some areas for the Pope's visit at the suggestion of the Vatican commission. Behind the rostrum there are three huge murals which were put up in 1981. The one in the center has the faces of General Augusto Cesar Sandino and Carlos Fonseca Amador, founder of the FSLN, with the slogan: "After twenty years of struggle, we swear to defend the victory." On each side are the faces of the nine founders of the FSLN, of whom only Tomas Borge is living. He was present on the rostrum that day.

These Sandinista symbols were not changed for the Pope's Mass. According to official information, the government offered to place a large cross on the rostrum, but dropped the idea when the Vatican commission seemed to received the offer with indifference. The only decoration in the Plaza in honor of the Pope and as an expression of the feeling of a large sector of the people, was a mural, 30 by 6 meters, facing the rostrum on the west side of the Plaza. It shows the people of Nicaragua children, women, old people, militia, campesinos - carrying a huge banner which reads, "John Paul II, Welcome to Free Nicaragua, thanks to God and the revolution." The people are also carrying images of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of Nicaragua, and Saint Dominic, patron of Managua. On the sides, primitive landscape scenes, typical of Nicaraguan painting, complete the mural. The mural was painted by a group of hundreds of Christians from the Christian Base Communities of Managua.

The Plaza began to fill in the early hours of the morning. Transportation of the people of Managua and the other departments to the site of the mass had been very well organized more than a week earlier. The plan was published in the newspapers, showing the bus routes bringing people from outlying areas and the routes for people coming on foot. The radio stations all over the country broadcasted in unison from 9 p.m. on March 3 and were on the air all night; they continually repeated instructions for the most orderly manner of getting to the plaza. Official sources have said that the government invested two months quota of gasoline in order to provide transportation for all those who wanted to come. The heat that day was tremendous nearly 40°C. (104°F.). Thousands of persons walked and stood for more than eight hours in the sun. There was a group of Red Cross workers who helped the hundreds of people who fainted. Fortunately in light of the number of people and the tensions that arose later there was no serious accident.

Friday morning, according to official estimates, some 40,000 persons led by Father Bismark Carballo, an activist in opposition to the government, stationed themselves in various areas throughout the Plaza and even took over the platform that had been reserved for the press. Father Carballo had told both the international press and the Managuan clergy that he had decided to "take the Plaza" regardless of obstacles. During the night of March 3, there were incidents between Carballo's groups and the Sandinista police, during which the film of a U.S. reporter from the ABC television network was confiscated. There were also groups walking from Masaya who refused to obey the guidelines set up by the bishops and the government for the mobilization and thus they were not allowed to proceed.

There was a mixture of banners and signs in the Plaza. Messages of peace were most prominent. There was a very large banner near the front which said, "Archbishop Romero shows us the way." Another, even larger, expressed greetings from the Neo Catechumenate communities. There was a tremendous press of people, barely held back by a low wood fence. Thousands and thousands continued to arrive, even as the mass began, and throughout the celebration.

Before the team in charge of the national radio transmission arrived, there were some tensions. One priest kept shouting slogans of welcome to the Pope and "vivas" to Archbishop Obando, from the central microphones which were connected to huge loudspeakers. Since this support for the Managua Archbishop was not unanimous in the Plaza, signs of friction began to appear in some areas. Other tensions arose because the "Catholic Chorus" wanted only traditional religious songs to go out through the loudspeakers, while those controlling the audio, from the Sandinista System, were playing songs from the Nicaraguan Campesino Mass. These songs were excluded from the Mass. All of these incidents had little significance but were inevitable, for although the great majority of people attending the Mass were united in the observance of the religious nature of the act, not all had the same vision regarding their expression of faith and even less were they of the same political persuasion.

It is difficult to estimate how many people from each tendency were in the Plaza, but to say that "only Sandinistas were allowed to enter the Plaza" is absurd, when 700,000 were in the Plaza. This is one fourth of the population and one half of those whose age and health would permit them to participate in something of this nature.

The majority in the Plaza were not "politicized" for the mass. What they wanted was to see the Pope and experience the magnificence of the event. They had great expectations for the Pope's words, for the mass itself, and they were ready to hear what the Pope was going to say about Nicaragua and in favor of Nicaragua. The international press, who passed through the country with the same swiftness as the Pope, could not appreciate the people's spirit of anticipation as could those of us who experienced this long and intense preparation for the papal visit.

The unity of all people in support of the Pope and his expected message was also reflected on the rostrum. More than 200 priests were present from all over the country and from all different tendencies. In statements given to the National Radio Father Jose Ernesto Bravo, pastoral vicar of the diocese of Esteli, commented on the tremendous importance of this gathering of priests widely separated geographically and ideologically, who were taking advantage of the long wait to visit together. The atmosphere among them was good. For Father Bravo, the clearest and most important fruit of the papal visit was going to be this unity that he felt he was seeing: a unity that the people of Nicaragua needed.

At 5 p.m., as the sun began to set and a light breeze brought a little relief from the heat, the Pope appeared before the crowd. The gold chasuble shone in the rays of the late afternoon sun. With his crosier and his miter, he walked in front of the people amidst "Vivas" and ovations, and ascended the rostrum to begin the Mass. It was a very emotionally charged moment, after hours of anticipation. Dozens of doves were released, and the flags waved in the hands of the people.

The Archbishop of Managua, Miguel Obando y Bravo, welcomed the Pope, thanking him for his visit and for his letter of June 1982 to the Nicaraguan bishops. (The theme was church unity and its contents have been polemic.) Obando focused on an anecdote which occurred between an Italian prisoner and Pope John XXIII.

The point of the anecdote was that the contact with the Pope had "freed" the prisoner. Through his development of this metaphor, Bishop Obando seemed to say and this is how it was interpreted by many who were listening – that Nicaragua is a prison, the Nicaraguans are prisoners and the Pope is their liberator. The words of the archbishop were provocative, although the vast majority of the people did not really understand his message because of his manner of expressing himself. But everyone did understand him when he said that the three loves of the Nicaraguans were the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary and the Pope.

The Mass began. The crowd answered the prayers, sang and followed the liturgy with complete respect. The Biblical texts chosen for the readings were the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11, 4 9); a call of Saint Paul for unity (Ephesians 4, 1 3); and the gospel of the Good Shepherd (John 10, 1 16).

The Pope's homily had one central theme: Church Unity. The only reference to Nicaragua's current situation was made in the first paragraph and this was the most complementary thing which the Pope said about the country and its people during his whole stay in Nicaragua. He spoke of Nicaragua "... so tested, so heroic in the face of the natural calamities which have hit you; so strong and ready to respond to the challenges of history and to build a society based on the material needs and the transcendental dimension of the human person." The people applauded.

From that moment on, and during the development of the homily, a "crescendo" of emotions began to be expressed in the plaza which is worthwhile analyzing. This response was probably due more to the tone of the homily than to the actual words spoken. This "crescendo" is what the press agencies have called "irreverence," "disrespect," "politicization," or "manipulation."

This emotional expression was not a result of the concepts treated in the Pope's homily because, to the vast majority of people in the Plaza, these were incomprehensible. What triggered the response of the people had more to do with the emphasis the Pope gave to some words, his severe and harsh manner of delivery and what he did not say. His severity was especially evident when he ordered the crowd to be silent instead of trying to establish some contact with them. This all had a great impact on large sectors of the crowd because they had hoped for something different.

During the first half of the homily, most of the people applauded the Pope when he would pause at strategic points, as is his custom. Led by certain sectors, they also applauded at other times, when he would mention certain words like "bishops," "parallel magisteriums," "popular Church," etc. The understanding of the concepts in the homily did not correspond to the applause, except among certain groups. Later, there were persons who in the beginning had been applauding "without knowing what he said," who began to shout other slogans interrupting the Pope's speech.

The Pope spoke of Church unity, "the sad legacy of division among individuals,” of Jesus' mission to "reestablish the 'lost' unity" of the Church as God's family and of unity as a gift from God.

In the second part of the discourse, the central message was the threats to which this unity is subjected. This was the harshest part of the sermon, due especially to the tone in which it was delivered: "Church unity is put into question when the powerful factors which build and maintain it the one faith, the revealed word, the sacraments, obedience to the Bishops and the Pope, the sense of vocation and joint responsibility in Christ's work in the world are brought up against earthly considerations, unacceptable ideological commitments, temporal options, or concepts of the Church which are contrary to the true one.” The word "true" was said in a tone of surprising firmness and with a sharp intonation.

Two paragraphs later, the Pope again repeated "Church unity..." and some groups interrupted him with applause while others began to shout the slogan; "We want peace!" On hearing the applause, the Pope smiled for the first and only time during the entire homily. As the shouts in the plaza continued, his harsh "Silence!" surprised everyone.

During the entire homily, the Pope insisted on a unity built around the Bishops. He used the word "bishops" fourteen times and the word "peace" only once and that was in response to the shouts of the crowd.

In terms of the contents of the speech, it is important to mention his insistence that "we submit our doctrinal concepts and our pastoral projects" to the Bishops and that everyone should be "capable of renouncing their own ideas, plans and commitments, even good ones... for the higher good of union with the Bishops, the Pope and the entire Church."

In light of the present situation in Nicaragua where the Church is already polarized into two tendencies, the life of faith and pastoral projects are sometimes difficult to reconcile. The part of the Church which is committed to the revolutionary process has witnessed some of their bishops in particular, the Archbishop of Managua take a political stance clearly in opposition to the government. In the conflictive Church situation, in which priests, religious and laity are all involved, the Pope took only one side of the Church into account. To cite the gospel which had been read earlier in the mass, the Good Shepherd was staying in the fold with the 99 and not going out to search for the "lost" sheep, either by word or by gesture. Large sectors of the crowd could not have articulated this type of analysis, but they were able to feel that they were in disagreement with the Pope and had a sense of having been let down by their Pope and Pastor.

When the Pope repeated the phrase "popular Church" in a surprisingly harsh tone and then termed it an "absurd and dangerous" project, emotions in the Plaza boiled over. It is difficult to pinpoint the precise moment of the most intense response, but to quote the Medellin and Puebla documents, "an impetuous and growing shout" was heard.

In order to analyze this unexpected situation of which we were not only witnesses but also protagonists and spectators, it might help to concentrate on one group which assisted at the Mass: the 50 mothers of the fallen heroes and martyrs who were there as a group. They had lost their sons and/or daughters in the war against Somoza or in the current war being fought along the Honduran border with the Somocistas.

These women were seated on the left of the main platform. They were dressed in black and each one had a picture, some quite large, of their relative. Their expectation was obvious: the Pope would pray for their dead, for all those who have died in Nicaragua, and perhaps he would even bless their pictures. They respectfully followed the service, listened to the sermon, and applauded even when they did not fully understand what was being said. But as the sermon continued, some of the women began to whisper among themselves and then the comments became louder: the Pope was not speaking about peace. So, in some of the pauses the Pope made, the mother's chant of "We want peace!" could be clearly heard. This had a contagious effect on the crowd and the chant got louder and louder. Even some of the sound control people, located beside the mothers, were caught up by this and there were some moments of confusion with the microphones.

But the confusion was not only amidst the crowd; it also reigned on the platform among the priests and the government officials. In the beginning, the Cabinet, Junta members and the FSLN directorate had been attentive to the sermon, applauding at various parts, and, in general, respectfully following the ceremony. At the first signs of disorder, they even made some gestures for silence and restraint, but they ended up shouting slogans also. Uneasiness was also detected among the priests on the platform as the sermon progressed. It reached such a pitch that, at one point, the members of the Vatican delegation considered suspending the Mass.

John Paul II finished the last section of the homily with the words: "The Eucharist which we are celebrating is in itself both the sign and the cause of unity." Sadly, the events themselves were demonstrating that such was not the case, and that within the framework of the Pope's message, it could not be the case.

The homily ended, but the tumult continued. During the Prayer of the Faithful, which the Pope prayed alone, the level of noise intensified considerably. As is common in these prayers, mention was made of the Pope, the bishops, the priests. In a beautiful example of the newly literate Nicaraguans, a man haltingly read a prayer for campesinos and workers in the country; a prayer for youth was said which mentioned the cause of justice. This increased the hopes of the mothers, who were still in front of the Pope, and the hopes of all in the Plaza that there would finally be a prayer for the dead. (Some 50,000 died in the liberation war, and already 400 have been killed in battles with the Somocistas ex guards.) Another prayer mentioned "those in prison." Since many of the prisoners in Nicaragua are Somocista ex National Guard, this irritated the crowd more. The only answer the mothers received for their request for a prayer for their dead was silence. This unexplainable omission has been one of the things which has most affected all of Nicaragua. With just a short prayer, the Pope could have quieted the crowd. It seems completely incomprehensible that the Pope would not say a prayer for the dead, "when that's what priests do."

After those moments when emotions reached a peak, near the time of Communion, a certain degree of calm returned, along with a growing feeling of astonishment. What happened? what have we done? what will happen now? In their indefinable but almost palpable perplexity, the crowd seemed to be more united in their confusion even though their diverse tendencies were now even more polarized. It was similar to a collective conscientization. And it happened quickly. Among many, the astonishment was expressed in this way: "We never expected this of the Pope." Sectors which were clearly against the revolution reflected on it differently: "Now everyone knows what is going on here; the Sandinistas have been rude to the Pope." But above all, confusion still prevailed.

The Pope left the Plaza without any of the gestures which he normally makes at large gatherings. No wave, no smile, no small gesture, not a word which might have brought some peace and unity to that "Tower of Babel." As he was leaving the platform, the FSLN hymn was being played and thousands were singing the words.

Except for the concrete situation of the mothers, it is not easy to analyze how the phenomenon in the plaza occurred. To say that "a religious ceremony was politicized" or that "the moment was manipulated politically" is an oversimplification. The situation among the women was highly charged emotionally. From "We want peace!" they went on to shout "A prayer for our dead!" From sitting down quietly praying, they stood up and held their pictures over their heads, and from that posture they left the stand and marched down before the Pope's platform still holding their pictures up high.

We have detailed this sequence of events because two of the symbols which are most deeply rooted in Nicaraguans come into play here: the mother and the dead. And these two symbols came up against another very strong one: the "sacred" image of the Pope. Papal authority and compassion met these national, popular and religious symbols.

Although shouting political slogans in the middle of the ceremony, like "Power to the people!" or "They will not pass!", was inappropriate, it was understandable. It also caused the Pope to raise his voice five more times asking for silence. At a certain point in the ceremony, the crowd lost the sense of what was happening; they forgot that it was a Mass and not just a demonstration, and so many responded as they would have done in any public ceremony in Nicaragua.

But political slogans were not the only ones being shouted. There were others, such as, "Bishop Romero! Present!", "We want a Church on the side of the poor!" and "Between Christianity and Revolution, there is no contradiction!" At one point, the Pope stopped and responded to the shout of "We want peace!" "The first to want peace is the church!" he said. There was great joy in some sections of the crowd: the Pope was going to depart from his prepared text and speak to the people! But he returned to his prepared text. Sentiments in the crowd were running high and many began to give voice to them.

The homily continued. The slogans continued. The microphones seemed to be mixed up, and there was a real confusion of voices. Evening had fallen and everyone was extremely tense and tired. It was not only a regrettable situation, but also an uncontrollable one. And we say uncontrollable because the dynamic of the crowd caught everyone off guard.

But the confusion was not only amidst the crowd; it also reigned on the platform among the priests and the government officials. In the beginning, the Cabinet, Junta members and the FSLN directorate had been attentive to the sermon, applauding at various parts, and, in general, respectfully following the ceremony. At the first signs of disorder, they even made some gestures for silence and restraint, but they ended up shouting slogans also. Uneasiness was also detected among the priests on the platform as the sermon progressed. It reached such a pitch that, at one point, the members of the Vatican delegation considered suspending the Mass.

John Paul II finished the last section of the homily with the words: "The Eucharist which we are celebrating is in itself both the sign and the cause of unity." Sadly, the events themselves were demonstrating that such was not the case, and that within the framework of the Pope's message, it could not be the case.

The homily ended, but the tumult continued, During the prayer of the Faithful, which the Pope prayed alone, the level of noise intensified considerably. As is common in these prayers, mention was made of the Pope, the bishops, the priests. in a beautiful example of the newly literate Nicaraguans, a man haltingly read a prayer for campesinos and workers in the country; a prayer for youth was said which mentioned the cause of justice. This increased the hopes of the mothers, who were still in front of the Pope, and the hopes of all in the Plaza that there would finally be a prayer for the dead. (50,000 died in the liberation war, and already 400 have been killed in battles with the Somocista ex guards.) Another prayer mentioned "those in prison." Since many of the prisoners in Nicaragua are Somocista ex National Guard, this irritated the crowd more. The only answer the mothers received for their request for a prayer for their dead was silence. This unexplainable omission has been one of the things which has most affected all of Nicaragua. With just a short prayer, the Pope could have quieted the crowd. It seems completely incomprehensible that the Pope would not say a prayer for the dead, "when that's what priests do."

After those moments when emotions reached a peak, near the time of Communion, a certain degree of calm returned, along with a growing feeling of astonishment. What happened? What have we done? What will happen now? In their indefinable but almost palpable perplexity, the crowd seemed to be more united in their confusion even though their diverse tendencies were now even more polarized. It was similar to a collective conscientization. And it happened quickly. Among many, the astonishment was expressed in this way. "We never expected this of the Pope." Sectors which were clearly against the revolution reflected on it differently: "Now everyone knows what is going on here; the Sandinistas have been rude to the Pope." But above all, confusion still prevailed.

The Pope left the Plaza without any of the gestures which he normally makes at large gatherings. No wave, no smile, no small gesture, not a word which might have brought some peace and unity to that "Tower of Babel." As he was leaving the platform, the FSLN hymn was being played and thousands were singing the words.

Even without totally understanding or being able to analyze the situation, the crowd was aware then that something serious had happened, something extremely important. Many realized, as the Pope hurriedly left the Plaza, that March 4, 1983, was not just another day, it had already entered into the annals of history: the history of Nicaragua, the Latin American Church and the Vatican. It's entrance was not triumphal but truly sad, painful. Only time will tell how many opportunities for peace, unity and hope were lost that day.

THE FAREWELL AT THE AIRPORT

The Pope's farewell at the airport was characterized by speed and by an unexpected level of emotion in Daniel Ortega's short improvised speech.

Four times, Ortega reminded the Pope that Nicaragua is "small." He also explained what had just happened in the Plaza.

“When our people say, 'we want peace,' it is born from a situation of pain, of tears, of permanent martyrdom. Our people are crucified everyday; they justly and rightfully demand solidarity.

“When our people say 'we want peace', they say it because in this country there is such great poverty that the struggle to eat everyday is a formidable task; because the struggle to provide our children with shoes and provide schools so they do not have to work is a formidable task. For this is a poor country; we have been an exploited country, and we are still a country which is victimized by an unjust international economic order.

"For that reason, when our people ask for peace, they want it not to enrich themselves, because we do not want to enrich ourselves, but rather, they want peace to be able to fulfill their basic necessities for life and subsistence.

"When our people say 'we want peace', they say it with conviction; knowing that, in the final analysis, it is this suffering people, this heroic people, this Christian people of Nicaragua, that will defend their right to a dignified peace, with their blood and with their lives."

Ortega's words were spoken clearly, in a tone of dignified sorrow. With his eyes fixed on the ground, he seemed not to want to give up the last shred of hope. "Holiness, today, as you depart from this land of Nicaragua, we express our confidence that Christian solidarity will favor this suffering people. Thank you." With that, he finished his farewell.

The Pope responded to the Junta Coordinator with the text prepared weeks earlier. He again referred to those who had not been able to attend the two liturgies in Leon and in Managua "as an act of their faith." He thanked everyone for his stay and finished by saying, "God bless this Church; God protect Nicaragua." After shaking hands with the Government Junta and embracing the bishops, the Pope boarded the plane. He left Nicaragua at 8:30 p.m.

The national radio, which had transmitted the Pope's visit throughout the country, continued on the air until 10:30 that night. Announcers and priests who had been with the transmission all day made an initial, hurried, and sorrowful evaluation of what had occurred.

Through the streets of the capital, caravans of buses and trucks began to take home the thousands of campesinos who had come from the interior of the country. The people from Managua began the slow walk back to their homes, still carrying their flags. They were visibly exhausted but had the need to unburden themselves and share with their neighbors and families what had happened that day. Not much sleep was had that night. As a new day dawned, the people began to work and to struggle for peace with heavy hearts.


From among the many documents generated by the polemical visit of Pope John Paul II, we here select some of those produced in the first moments.

FAREWELL WORDS SPOKEN BY DANIEL ORTEGA SAAVEDRA, COORDINADOR OF THE NATIONAL RECONSTRUCTION GOVERNMENT JUNTA, TO POPE JOHN PAUL 11 AT THE CONCLUSION OF HIS VISIT TO NICARAGUA.

We, the Nicaraguan people, the Government and the FSLN have made great efforts to give your Holiness the warmest welcome possible.

We were especially interested in the presence of your Holiness in the Central American region, particularly in Nicaragua, because we are a geographically small nation with a small population, under continuous attack by a powerful enemy; a small nation which made great sacrifices to gain its freedom. We are now trying to reconstruct this nation, both materially and spiritually.

We are a small country, daily subjected to attacks. Every day we lose children, women, elderly, practicing Christians, who struggled for their people's freedom and who, because of their Christian ideals, continue to defend the freedom they conquered.

Hence when our people say "we want peace," it is born from a situation of pain, of tears, of permanent martyrdom. Our people are crucified everyday; they justly and rightfully demand solidarity.

When our people say "we want peace," they say it because in this country there is such great poverty that the struggle to eat everyday is a formidable task; because the struggle to provide our children with shoes and provide schools so they do not have to work is a formidable task; because this is a poor country; because we have been an exploited country and we are still a country which is victimized by an unjust international economic order.

For that reason, when our people ask for peace, they want it not to enrich themselves, because we do not want to enrich ourselves, but rather, they want peace to be able to fulfill their basic necessities for life and subsistence.

When our people say "we want peace", they say it with conviction; knowing that, in the final analysis, it is this suffering people, this heroic people, this Christian people of Nicaragua, that will defend their right to a dignified peace, with their blood and with their lives.

Your Holiness, today you have had the opportunity to join with this profoundly Christian people, whose very Christian sentiments also lead them to love their martyrs, to venerate their heroes, to remember their fallen children, brothers, parents and relatives every day with more respect.

And so, this Christian people demands unity in order to conquer peace; unity of all moral forces, of all people's forces, the forces of religion, the forces of the Church, to defend peace, to attain peace.

Holiness, today, as you depart from this land of Nicaragua, we express our confidence that Christian solidarity will favor this suffering people.

CHRISTIAN REFLECTION ON THE POPE'S MARCH 4
VISIT TO NICARAGUA


by a theological reflection group

1) At the close of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nicaragua we saw the massive determined participation of the Nicaraguan people as an experience of great value. We are puzzled by the accusations of alleged obstacles that kept some of the people from the meeting with the Pope. We were able to verify the presence of over 700,000 people in the July 19th Plaza. The people were able to express themselves in a variety of ways in order to communicate with the Pope. They forcefully shouted out their anxieties and hopes.

It is possible that some people are not accustomed to this kind of manifestation by the Nicaraguans; they may have felt strange or uncomfortable. But the people of free Nicaragua were able to express the disquieting voice of the oppressed people of our continent over the centuries. They were the voice of those who in other Latin American countries have no voice. In the outburst of the people we Christians had the ever renewing experience of the God of the poor, who promises and announces the freedom and salvation of all people

2) We appreciate the Pope's having referred to the Nicaraguan people as "vigorous and active in responding to the challenges of history and in striving to build a new society according to the material needs and the transcendent dimensions of mankind." We likewise value the Pope's call for peace "to those who inside or outside, wherever they are, promote in one way or another ideological, economic or military tensions which hinder the free development of this people who are lovers of peace, fraternity and real human progress." What we see pointed out here is the United States, imperialism and other enemies of this people armed forces on the other side of the border, as well as internal groups who create ideological tension and also those who manipulate religion and the Church against the real process of the people.

3) To us the language and tone of the Pope's speeches seemed admonishing and negative, lacking any connection with the people whom he addressed. In its religious aspect this language was political. The theological subjects dealt with were, we believe, beyond the scope of comprehension of the great majority of the people. Furthermore, long sentences and the emphases given by the Pope made assimilation of the subjects even more difficult. We have the impression that the great majority of the people did not experience an enlightening presence from their Pastor.

4) It is also our opinion that unfortunately the speeches of John Paul II ignored values of the Sandinista Revolution, such as the historic option for the poor, especially the campesinos; the endeavor to solve in a spirit of solidarity the problems inherent in a new model of economic development; the sacrifices for the defense of the people; the literacy campaign; the undeniable desire to overcome the obstacles in the way of achieving peace; in a word, everything which at this time constitutes the principal moral wealth of the people. This omission provoked irritation and disillusionment in many Nicaraguans.

5) We confess that the Holy Father's admonitions about unbelief and atheistic education sounded strange to us, as we experience the presence of Christian motivation in the revolutionary process. The Sandinista Revolution, for the first time in the recent history of revolutions, has proclaimed the right to religious liberty and the freedom of apostolic action by the Churches. We feel the same way about his allusions to a division in the Church due to theological reasons, because frictions that occur in the Christian community are rooted in socio political options. There is a constant effort not to break the Church's unity of faith. Perhaps some of us Christians committed to the revolutionary process have not always known how to safeguard the complete identity of the faith in our temporal commitments, but we regret that the Pope has never referred to the brazen use of the faith made by groups opposed to the Revolution in Nicaragua. Tensions will continue.

6) We do not understand how the struggle for justice and the option for the poor, which is the only ecumenism that Christians practice in Nicaragua, and precisely by those who are inserted in the revolutionary process, can be "the source of new and worse ruptures."

7) We realize that people distant from Nicaragua will find that the speeches of His Holiness will make it difficult to discover the authentic spiritual and ethical values of the Nicaraguan Revolution. And, to be sure, the Revolution's enemies will use the speeches to confirm their position.

COMMUNIQUE BY THE SANDINIST NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT (FSLN)
ON POPE JOHN PAUL II’S VISIT TO NICARAGUA

Managua, Nicaragua, March 8, 1983

From: The National Directorate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)

To: The heroic people of Nicaragua and to the whole world.

At the conclusion of the papal visit to this region, which included our own country, the National Directorate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front considers it necessary to speak out on the repercussions of the visit, given the situations in the Central American area.

1) His Holiness John Paul II, according to his public statements, conferred a pastoral and apostolic character on his pilgrimage through this part of the world. Nevertheless, it was inevitable that his visit should have political repercussions, since it is impossible to refer to matters such as revolutionary violence, the campesino situation, the problem of ethnic minorities, education, etc., apart from their political connotations.

The very proclamation of the unity of the Church and the principle of authority of the Church hierarchy in our situation acquires a political significance, given the particular characteristics of the Christian ambience in a region convulsed by political, social and even military struggles, in relation to which bishops, priests and laypeople assume political positions in favor of or against the established systems.

2) The peoples of this region, among whom believers are a majority, are living in accelerated processes of change, product of the social and political dynamic in which they are immersed, and the fact that the Pope's visit has repercussions of this kind is no surprise to them.

After his return to the Vatican, the Pope's messages become subject to a process of analysis and reflection. There will surely be those who will find in the words pronounced here elements to fortify rightist and anti people positions. There will also be those who discover in the messages some light of hope for the cause of social justice in which they are struggling. In any case, the basic fact is that an expectation has been created.

3) The Pope in his pilgrimages brings his messages prepared ahead of time. But his wisdom and his high moral responsibility in the world surely make him open to the possibility of enriching his criteria as he enters into contact with the concrete reality of each place that he visits.

Thus, it is to be expected that he, too, is now going through a process of analysis and reflection on the reality of the poverty, suffering, hope, passion, struggles and longing for peace that he met in these peoples, an analysis that in the future will go further, in view of what he said in his message after visiting Nicaragua, namely, that "What he had said was not a mere expression of principles but also a determination, that is, a precise willingness to work in such a direction. . . because the solution which the Holy See advocates is a political and not a military solution."

4) Therefore, we trust that the cry of the mothers and the majority of the Nicaraguan people for their Heroes and Martyrs who have fallen as victims of the aggressive policy of imperialism and the cry for peace, which had an overflowing popular expression during his Mass in the 19th of July Plaza, will be heard and translated into a "precise willingness to work in such a direction," as his message says.

Thus, on the departure of His Holiness from our land, the National Directorate reaffirms its principles on religion stated in its communiqué of October 1980.

At the same time, we reaffirm our vocation and determination to channel our revolutionary process in favor of the exploited and oppressed, of those who thirst for justice of whom the gospel speaks. For them the agrarian reform will be carried further; for them the services of education will he amplified every year services which already reach more than a million Nicaraguans; for them the coverage of health services, quadrupled since the triumph of the Revolution, will be extended; for them we will keep on struggling, amidst the economic difficulties that the international crisis has aggravated, so that the Nicaraguan people will not lack the sustenance, employment, food, shelter, advancement and wholesome entertainment for which they have thirsted for centuries. On their behalf we will continue to fight for peace and the defense of national sovereignty.

A Free Country or Death!

National Directorate of the Sandinista National. Liberation Front

OPEN LETTER

We the undersigned, priests and laity, theologians and social scientists, writers and journalists, were present during the visit of His Holiness John Paul II to Nicaragua, and we have closely followed all the preparations for the visit. We feel obliged to write you to correct the versions which some international media have published about these events, and particularly about what happened during the open-air Mass of the Pope in the 19th of July Plaza in Managua, Friday, march 4th.

1) It has been repeatedly stated that the Nicaraguan Catholics who wanted to attend the two religious services at which the Pope officiated met with obstacles from the civil authorities and that only persons selected by the government were able to attend the Mass in the 19th of July Plaza. We can personally verify that approximately 700,000 persons, one fourth of the population, attended the two liturgical ceremonies in Leon and Managua. Almost all of Nicaragua's collective transportation and almost every road in the country were used to assure the greatest mobilization possible, and the possibility of participating was officially offered to all.

2) It has also been said that Nicaraguan civil authorities imposed press censorship on His Holiness's visit to that country. This is not correct. We have read the various Nicaraguan papers for the month before the papal visit and we have seen that after the Pope's visit to Nicaragua was officially announced, the newspapers were able to give broad, varied and, in recent weeks, continuous information.

We have also read that the Vatican commission which prepared His Holiness's trip to Nicaragua was not able to dialogue which the Government Junta of National Reconstruction about placing a large cross on the platform in which the Holy Father would celebrate the Eucharist and that instead the government decorated the 19th of July Plaza with a large revolutionary billboard. We wish to clarify that everyone in Nicaragua knows that the three murals located there, which are paintings of General Augusto C. Sandino and the founders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, have been there since July 1981. On the other hand, it seems strange to us that almost no one has mentioned the mural that the parishioners of Managua painted a week prior to the arrival of the Holy Father, which depicts a procession of the Nicaraguan people receiving the Pope with the statues of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Patron of Nicaragua, and Saint Dominic of Guzman, the Patron of Managua. Before we left Managua, it was public knowledge in the country that Nicaraguan civil authorities in a meeting with the Vatican commission offered to place a cross on the stage. The reaction of the commission was one of indifference.

4) Similarly, we have seen that some of the international cables have reported an "electronic piracy" on the part of the government in the celebration of the open-air Mass in the 19th of July Plaza. These same cables have described a manipulation "of the microphones during the pope's mass in Managua, so that the voice of John Paul II could not be heard, only that of the political propaganda.”

Those of us who personally attended that Mass are witnesses to the fact that at no time was the voice of the Holy Father not heard over the loudspeaker system. Those who followed this event on radio and/or television, including persons in other Central American countries, can confirm that the voice of the Pope was never silenced due to a manipulation of the sound system in the plaza.

5) In almost all of the international press it was insistently stated that during the afternoon of March 4th, the Nicaraguan Government, using "Sandinista mobs", transformed a religious celebration into a political one by means of political slogans. We who attended that celebration maintain that the public liturgical celebration developed normally until almost the end of the Holy Father's homily. At that point from different places in the Plaza, but especially from the area where many of the mothers of Nicaraguan Heroes and martyrs were sitting, the tension was palpable. This was expressed in cries to the Holy Father demanding that he speak a word of peace and say a prayer for their dead. These women were located close to the transmission center, and even though the sound technicians tried to control this unexpected development, they could neither prevent the women from expressing themselves through the plaza microphones nor prevent that anguish from spreading to broad sectors of those in attendance. To this request others were added, some clearly religious and others of a political nature, which are customary at Nicaragua public events. Once this social psychological phenomenon occurred, practically everyone lost control over what was happening.

6) In the international press, it has been reported that the Nicaraguan government planned this boycott of the papal Mass. Although we profoundly regret that no one was able to effectively restore the tenor of the celebration, we never had the impression that it involved something which had been arranged beforehand. We feel that most of those in attendance would be able to say with certainty that they were both surprised and overwhelmed when the phenomenon occurred, a phenomenon which is difficult to comprehend outside of the current Nicaraguan situation. No Nicaraguan deliberately tried to be disrespectful to the Holy Father, and much less in a moment as solemn as the Mass. The preparations for the visit demonstrated the effort, the affection and the cooperation with which all sectors of Nicaragua prepared to received the Holy Father.

These clarifications have arisen from our honest desire to make the truth known, and to avoid more unjust damage from outside the country to a people who have already suffered considerably. We hope that you will take these into consideration.

Managua, March 6, 1983
Cordially,

Javier Solis, Costa Rican, journalist, works at IDOC (International Christian Documentation Center) in Rome.

Father Francois Houtart, sociologist, coordinator of Tricontinental Center (Africa, Asia, Latin America) at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.

Father Miguel Concha Malo, journalist and professor of theology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Dr. Pedro A. Riveiro de Oliveira, sociologist and author of various books on Catholicism in Brazil, professor at the Superior Institute of Religious Studies at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Dr. Pablo Richard, professor of theology at the National University of Heredia, Costa Rica.

Dr. Cayetano de Lella, expert in sociology of communications, professor in Department of Social Communications at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

INSTITUTO HISTORICO CENTROAMERICANO

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