Two Kinds of Christian Radicalism in Nicaragua
CHRIST AND NEIGHBOR
As of this writing, peace seems to be breaking out again in Central America. This upsurge of hope moved me to pick up two books that have been lying around the house unread: The Gospel in Solentiname by Ernesto Cardenal, poet, priest, and former Minister of Culture in Nicaragua, and Revolutionaries for the Gospel: Testimonies of Fifteen Christians in the Nicaraguan Government. The one who asks the questions and takes the testimony, on a tape recorder, is Teofilo Cabestrero, a Spanish priest living in Nicaragua, and he does a good, workmanlike job. I got to know several of these Christians at international conferences, notably Carlos Tunnerman, now Ambassador to the U.S., and Miguel Ernesto Vijil, Minister of Housing.
But first, Fr. Cardenal, the same Cardenal who knelt at the Pope’s feet and received a scolding back in 1983. His book, first published in 1975, well before the Sandinista Revolution, is a rather beautiful and moving collection of dialogues on the Gospel between or among Cardenal and the fishermen, peasants, visitors — men and women, educated and uneducated, young and old — who came to Mass at Cardenal’s “lay monastery” on one of the Solentiname Islands in Lake Nicaragua. In 1977 the community, which had become a center of poetry, art, handicrafts, spiritual renewal, and, ultimately, revolution, was destroyed by Somoza’s National Guard. Some of its members, led by Cardenal, were active in the uprising that succeeded two years later in overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship. In an epilogue, written after the Guard’s destruction of the community, but before the successful revolution, Cardenal sums up this experience in a revealing passage:
The Gospel was what most radicalized us politically…. With admirable simplicity and profound theology they [the peasants] began to understand the core of the Gospel message: the announcement of the Kingdom of God, that is, the establishment on this earth of a just society, without exploiters or exploited, with all goods in common, just like the society in which the first Christians lived. But above all else the Gospel taught us that the word of God is not only to be heard, but also to be put into practice.
As the peasants of Solentiname got deeper and deeper into the Gospel, they could not help but feel united to their brother and sister peasants who were suffering persecution and terror, who were imprisoned, tortured, raped, murdered, and their homes burnt. They also felt solidarity with all who with compassion for their neighbor were offering their lives. For this solidarity to be real they had to lay security, and life, on the line. In Solentiname it was well known that we were not going to enjoy peace and tranquility if we wanted to put into practice the word of God. We knew that the hour of sacrifice was going to arrive. This hour has now come.
You can see from this eloquent passage how Latin American liberation theologians and priests have created problems for Cardinal Ratzinger and the Pope. After all, who can quarrel with the cry of protest against rape, murder, and pillage, or the reminder that faith without works is dead, or the appeal to Christian sacrifice and compassion? Who can deny that the early Christians did have “all goods in common”? But then, who can defend the idea that “the core of the Gospel message” is the establishment, not just for the willing few, but for the unwilling majority as well, of a society in which all goods are held in common? Even the Soviet Union has given up on that.
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