Nicaragua: Fernando Cardenal, revolutionary priest dies at 82

The Jesuit priest passed away on Saturday in a Managua hospital

By Confidencial

Fernando Cardenal
Fernando Cardenal. Photo: from the archives of the Viji Gurdian family for Confidencial.

HAVANA TIMES – Fernando Cardenal passed away in the early morning of Saturday, February 20, following several weeks in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Nicaragua’s capital. His health failed after an operation to repair an abdominal hernia resulted in infection. Born in Granada in 1934, Cardenal was a Jesuit priest, liberation theologian and former Minister of Education in Nicaragua.

Father Cardenal devoted his life to the field of education. During the early 1980s he led the National Literacy Crusade, a campaign that taught many thousands of Nicaraguans – particularly those who lived in remote areas – to read and write. The campaign involved the participation of some 100,000 volunteers and reduced the level of illiteracy in the country from 50% to 13%. It earned the recognition of UNESCO in 1981.

In an interview granted to Georgetown University in Washington DC, Cardenal explained that when he was given the task of organizing the literacy crusade, he felt both fear and satisfaction. “I had never before organized anything and this was a huge task. They gave me the order but they didn’t give me the money to create the campaign. There wasn’t any money; barely ten days had passed since the Victory (of the Revolution on July 19, 1979). This was very difficult to do, so I felt both joy and fear,” he said.

His ties to the Sandinistas and to Liberation Theology forced Cardenal to abandon the Company of Jesus, as ordered by Pope Juan Pablo II under the argument that his roles as a priest and a government minister were incompatible. He returned to the order when he was seventy.

Also read: Fernando Cardenal: A Life for Love

Renowned author Sergio Ramirez said that Cardenal was “a symbol of commitment and humanity.” The archbishop of Managua, Leopoldo Jose Brenes, lamented the dealth of the priest and said that he “joined the prayers of the entire Nicaraguan Jesuit community.”

The Sandinista Renewal Movement also issued a statement in which its members recall that Cardenal raised his voice to denounce the repression of the Somoza dictatorship. “His commitment, vocation of service, tested integrity, and love for Nicaragua characterized Fernando Cardenal throughout his entire life..”

Cardenal also headed Fe and Alegria, an organization promoting popular education and social aims that has a network of 22 facilities in all Nicaragua. Its members work to benefit the poor by promoting values of justice, fairness, freedom and faith.

Cardenal was operated on for an abdominal hernia at the beginning of February. However his health deteriorated after an abdominal infection weakened his body until he died of heart failure.

The wake for Father Cardenal took place Saturday at the chapel of the Central American Univeristy (UCA). A funeral mass is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. Sunday at the main hall of the University, followed by his burial.