Faith and Hope is the Work of El Porvenir

by Liz Specht–

As you’ve read about El Porvenir’s work with Nicaraguan villagers, have you wondered how those people manage? – with water from a stream, no indoor plumbing, cookstoves that burn smoky wood (or worse)? How have they managed to be cheerful, loving and creative, to dig wells and latrine pits, to care for their children, to have hope for the future?

I daresay it’s their Christian faith, their joyful solid faith. That faith went through birth pangs in the 1960’s and ’70’s when campesinos were treated like cattle by the rich and powerful……In 1966 a Nicaraguan priest, Ernesto Cardenal, with a Colombian poet and his wife, began a small Christian commune on an island in Lake Nicaragua. They cleared the land and rebuilt the small wooden church which had been abandoned years before.

To that church the peasants came in growing numbers for the Sunday Mass. But, instead of a homily on the Gospel reading, there was a dialogue about it. “The commentaries of the campesinos”, wrote Cardenal, “were usually of greater profundity than those of many theologians, but of a simplicity like that of the Gospel itself. This is not surprising: the Gospel, or ‘Good News’ (to the poor), was written for them and by people like them.”

“It was the Gospel which radicalized us politically. 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…”

Nicaragua at that time was far from being a “just society”; it was a fiefdom of the Somoza family…But Managua, the capital of Nicaragua and the corrupt center of Somoza’s iron rule, seemed far away as the peasants developed a fish and farming cooperative, a clinic, and an artists’ center. The handwork of the peasants — paintings, wood carvings and metal work — came to be sold in Europe as well as in North and South America. The tape-recorded comments on the Sunday Gospel were published, first in Spanish, then in German and English. Cardenal’s writings and the recorded comments of the peasants made clear to much of the world the depravity of Somoza’s regime. What Cardenal once described as “that near-paradise that was Solentiname” was doomed. In October 1977, Somoza’s National Guard swept across the island, killing, raping, burning and pillaging. Most of the peasant’s huts were destroyed, the library was vandalized, boats and barns were torched and the church became a military barracks.

The Gospel-rooted radicalism of the peasants turned to revolutionary action. They threw their support behind the Sandinistas, a people’s army trying to overthrow Somoza…and succeeded on July 19, 1979. The surviving peasants returned to rebuild Solentiname or to settle in other parts of Nicaragua, bringing with them their faith and their hope-filled determination.  The accompanying art and song bring a taste of their creativity. It is this faith and hope that bubbles to life in the work of El Porvenir.     

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* This is the last Sunday this Lent when a “virtual” second offering plate is “passed around” so you can share in the work of El Porvenir.

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