The pastoral visit of the Pope John Paul II to Nicaragua in 1983 was an event that was most awaited by different groups of people. There were seething tensions between the Nicaraguan Church and the Sandinista Government and the Nicaraguan Catholic Hierarchy and, people from all these groups believed that their queries and questions would be addressed and answered by the pope during his visit.
Some of the reform minded Catholics hoped for a notable change in the communal situation with the Pope’s visit. They believed that the Pope would act as a mediator for the process of peace in the public domain and would offer his support for peace, by addressing and approving their actions which favored the interests of the poor people. They also believed that the deaths of victims during the counter revolutions would be acknowledged with some words of sympathy and comfort.
Instead of addressing the cause for tensions in the state, the Pope merely spoke about ‘godless communism’ that had taken an upper hand in the region and that the Church had to take measures to combat it. He addressed in disappointment, about the clear distinctions and divisions between the Nicaraguan Church and the Catholic Hierarchy church and that, they were working towards two different causes. The hopes of the Nicaraguan Catholics who believed that the pope would offer his condolences and sympathy to the people, who had lost their near and dear ones to the revolutions, were shattered. By avoiding the topic of the 17 young men who were killed by the ‘contras’ in the revolution the previous day, he estranged thousands of Nicaraguans who had hopes on him and his words of condolences. His strong remarks about the unity of the church under the bishops and religious education remained as highlights throughout his speech. “You should live united with your Bishop, pray for the Church, and be faithful to your faith”, he said (Kirk, 1985, p. 36). For the Nicaraguans who had suffered a great loss, the speech that concentrated solely on Church Unity was a thunderbolt. He also remarked that the corruption of the Nicaraguan Church and that, it could only be reformed by the elimination of communism that prevailed in the Sandinista Government. ‘In Nicaragua he seemed to be a disturbed man with a mission somehow single-handedly to stave off the Marxist direction of the Sandinista revolutionary government of reconstruction and place the ideology of the Catholic Church in direct confrontation with the ideology of the Sandinista revolution ', noted one of the North American priests, about the pope (Kirk, 1985, p. 39).
The Pope’s visit induced fear in the minds of the Nicaraguan priests. It not only aggravated the tensions between the sides but also eventually led to the Nicaraguan Civil War. The belief of the Nicaraguan priests that, the Pope was a man of god, a beacon of light and a bringer of peace, came as a staggering revelation.
Kirk, J. (1985). John Paul I1and the Exorcism of Liberation Theology: A Retrospective Look at the Pope in Nicaragua1. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 4(1), 33-47.
Dodson, M. (1986). The politics of religion in revolutionary Nicaragua. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 483(1), 36-49.