Volume > Issue > Impressions of Nicaragua — Part II

Impressions of Nicaragua — Part II


By Robert Coles | May 1984

In the well-to-do sections of Managua, and other cities of Nicaragua, such as Masaya or León, the Pope’s picture may be seen displayed proudly on the doors of houses, in any number of windows. In the stores frequented by business or professional people the same holds — the Pontiff’s familiar smil­ing face is a constant presence. But in the barrios, and indeed, in the homes of campesinos, who work Nicaragua’s land for sugar or cotton, one sees the Pope rarely, if at all. Jesus, yes — He is everywhere, even sometimes in the homes of quite radical Sandinista people. But the Pope for a good number of Nicaraguans loyal to the present government has become controversial, to say the least.

I asked one woman who lived in a Managua barrio to help me understand why I saw no picture of John Paul II anywhere in that community, yet so many pictures of him in the homes (many quite elegant) near the Inter-Continental Hotel, the fan­cy place where my ilk stays, at least in the first days of a visit to the country. This woman was not especially political — as were several others I met, who were so-called block leaders, hence tied to the government’s power, and yes, its largesse (the control of sugar or flour distribution). She was, really, an ordinary person who for years had work­ed in a small factory as a seamstress. She had known her fair share of suffering and tragedy, and yet had somehow managed to keep her spirits rea­sonably high — and also to keep her faith. When we began talking about the Pope, I noticed that she lowered her head immediately, and paused for a longer spell than had ever before been her custom. She seemed almost to inhale deeply before she started making her statement:

I do not think the Holy Father’s visit here was a good one! We wanted to see him. He is our shepherd. But he became [the cause of] a big argument. When I saw him being booed, I was upset. Then I heard our government’s side, and I was upset again. I kept wondering why the Pope let this happen. I think he doesn’t like our government. He may be right in some of his criticism, but no Pope ever came here and gave a lecture to the Somozas, during all the years they ruled us; and when we would ask the priests why the Church doesn’t stand up to the Somozas, we were told that the Church doesn’t mix in politics. But now the Pope does. It’s all too much for me to figure out!

That last moment of avowed intellectual in­capacity soon enough gives way to a somewhat agi­tated series of assertions, interposed with pleas for God’s mercy:

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