Nicaragua is still shaken by the crisis that began 14 months ago. The country continues to make headlines – such as in mid-June with the pardoning of almost one hundred people who were still imprisoned for protesting against the government the year before. This matter was also addressed at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States held in Medellín from 26 to 28 June. The situation in the Central American country is critical, with a great degree of polarisation and a lot of confrontation. Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa talked about this during a visit to the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
ACN: What is the situation in Nicaragua after more than 14 months of crisis?
We are living in a situation that is critical both socio-politically and economically. There is a great degree of polarisation in Nicaragua, a lot of confrontation. We as a Church bring the people a word of hope to create the bedrock and foundation for our own narrative. It is about the hope for a better future in a country where the next generations can live in peace, justice and progress within the framework of institutionalised democracy, of course one that has a social orientation for the poor, as the Latin American bishops declared in Puebla in the 1970s.
The bishops played an important role in the entire process during the severe crisis in 2018: is the Church now less involved than it was then?
The Nicaraguan church is directly committed to the narrative of its country. It feels and sees itself as a people, a nomadic and a pilgrim people, as a working people, who believe in themselves and are of course directed by the hand of God. I believe that we Nicaraguans have the potential to develop this as our future.
As regards the future of the country, those most affected by the crisis were the many young people who had tried to give voice to their protests. Doubtless, youth is one of the groups that suffered the most under the crisis. Would you agree?
Pope Francis says that young people are the now of God. Which is why young people in Nicaragua are writing history. They are developing their own narrative. That is why all of living society, both young people and adults, has to overcome transitory things and focus its thoughts and energy on ensuring that future generations will inherit a better country.
A number of media sources and social networks reported that there was a certain degree of disharmony in the Nicaraguan Church and different fractions in the Church. Is this statement true?
With all due respect: I see this as the complete and utter opposite of our reality and even anachronistic, obsolete, because the Church in Nicaragua may have been fragmented in the 1980s, when the famous “Church of the People” emerged all over Latin America with its so-called “Theology of Liberation”. A number of theologians have presented several aspects of this incorrectly, because any genuine theology is liberating.
Our Church is more unified than ever. This is made very clear by the fact that we have been able to achieve a very prophetic work with the help of the Holy Ghost. This includes the proclamation of hope: to keep your eyes open to the reality we live in today, but aspire to a better future and speak out against every injustice. If the Church in Nicaragua were not united, then it would not be able to realise this prophetic work, this prophetic mission. This would quite simply be impossible. I can also confirm that the unity of the Church, the unity of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, is currently the greatest strength that we bishops have in our country.
What is the next challenge that you will have to face? What is the next step that you as a Church will have to take?
We Nicaraguans are responsible for our now. We have to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to be able to develop a better future. Shared responsibility means knowing and feeling that each of us is responsible for his own narrative, for our narrative and that we can and must change the narrative for the better. We can look back on more than 190 years of history, a history which found us very fragmented and divided and embroiled in confrontation. This made it difficult to build up a solid and stable country. I think that it is the duty of the Church not to neglect this responsibility in its prophetic mission and to play a role in the transition that the narrative of Nicaragua is currently making. A transition that can be achieved by all of us sitting together at the table, each at his or her place, without excluding anyone, and breaking bread together in dignity.
And of course we must continue to proclaim hope in the viability of our country. We must not lose hope – I believe that this is vital and a challenge for the Nicaraguan Church.
One last question: What would you like to say to benefactors of ACN throughout the world? What can we do for your country?
I really like the name of the foundation – Aid to the Church in Need – because the Church truly is in need. It needs prayer and hope in order to be able to continue to work prophetically. The Church must continue to become the people and open its doors to all without discrimination. We are all the poor widow: not only those who have a lot of money, but also those who have very little. The secret is in the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, “to give until it hurts.” That is why I say to the benefactors of ACN: “Continue to do what you have done in the past without fear, until it hurts, by giving a part of that which you have to live on. Because by doing so you are giving us life.”