The following interview was recorded by the 1986 delegation to San Juan de Limay. It is submitted by Howdy Burns, a member of that first delegation.
INTERVIEW WITH BISHOP RUBEN LOPEZ OF ESTELI, NICARAGUA LIBRE ON JANUARY 14, 1986
Paul Fitzpatrick, a Marionist priest traveling with our Casa Baltimore delegation, introduced us. Bishop Lopez is a dark complected man of about 45-50 years of age with coal black hair, highlighted by his starched white shirt. We asked first what problems in his diocese most troubled him? He replied:
Our [the delegation’s] solidarity with Nicaragua and this region are important. It is important that you have solidarity with the people of Nicaragua. The position of Nicaragua geographically and politically in Central America is very important. Nicaragua is important around the world. It is important that you have selected Limay for Casa Baltimore’s city. Limay is one of the places that has the greatest need in the region.
What are the main problems that you encounter in your work? “Primarily, they are human problems. One of the most important is look at the integral development of the whole person. I am concerned with the development of values in the people–cultural, religious, and civic values.”
What is the relationship between the Church and government? “I understand that you are in contact with our local government officials. The government officials and the Church dialogue frequently about matters of common interest. The Diocese of Estelli and the government have joint projects, but not all religious are not same. For example, the Atlantic Coast is far different than the Pacific Coast and there are differences between the Pacific Coast and here in the North. The Country has been divided into six regions to help to solve each region’s problems individually. In each region, the relationship between the Church and the government differs. I believe that it is important to maintain a dialogue between the Church and the government.”
What do you think about U.S. criticism of Nicaragua? “There is a lot of disinformation that is given outside this Country and it is right here where we know what the true situation is. I am very happy that you are here to see for yourselves what the truth is.”
Is there any repression of the Church by the government? “I myself have not experienced any difficulty with the government.”
Do you have any objection do the formation of a friendship between St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Baltimore and the parish of San Juan de Limay? “That depends on what level we propose to communicate. If you propose to undertake projects, you might deal with civil authorities. If the relationship is to be just person to person, that is okay. But if your propose any further involvement, you should route your proposal through me or the civil authorities. To the extent that St. Vincent’s proposes simply to get to know the people of Limay, I approve wholeheartedly. The world has no frontiers and any interrelationship can only help.”
What has been the Church’s role regarding the people’s losses to the Contra. “The Nicaraguan people are profoundly religious. Their religion is tied to their culture and a basic aspect of their culture is life and death. When the people lose a family member, they first come to the Church and the Church shares their suffering. Thus, the Church is never absent from the suffering of the people.”
The Cardinal seems to ignore the suffering of the people and support the Contras. Will you comment on this problem? “No! Go ask the Cardinal.”
How has the revolution affected the Church? “I don’t look at the situation that way. I would ask: How does the Church respond to the reality of the revolution? We live in the reality of a transformation of society. And the important thing is to relate to and accept these changes in a way that is mature. The revolution is irreversible and must take into account the history of the people of Nicaragua. The Church must recognize this. The subject of all the exchanges is the people and the Church must minister to the people. And most of our people are Christians.”
What changes has the revolution brought to the Church? “The literacy campaign just after the ‘triumph’ has had a great impact. Also, there has been a revolution in health care for the people, although in this area the people depend on international help. These are very positive changes since the revolution.”
What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the new government? “The government is working to form a new society in Nicaragua and there has never existed a process like this which is chemically pure. So we see various steps forward and accommodations in the process. I feel that it is premature to judge the new government because no government really can do much in just six years. If the process is going one way today, it could change directions tomorrow. So it is too early to tell.”
Should the Church be doing some of the things the present government is doing? “Because the focus of the government programs is the people and the people are the common concern of the Church and the government, there is no new program of the government from which the Church should marginalize itself.”
What should we tell our people in Baltimore about Nicaragua, especially since our government opposes the government of Nicaragua? “More than anything, I want to say how much I value the efforts of the people throughout the United States to show solidarity with the people of Nicaragua. If this solidarity comes from the following of the principles of the Gospel, it is very valuable, because it supports the hopes of the people of Nicaragua.”