By Reverend Paul Shoaf Kozak
HAVANA TIMES – My experience in Central and South America was foundational in my ethical and religious formation and cultural immersion during the liturgical season of Lent, and holy week stirs my memory. I had the opportunity to accompany the Christian base communities in many of their faith practices, and I saw how fasting, praying and almsgiving are common among peoples in the world who are discerning the path forward.
For the Jewish people Passover recalls their liberation from slavery in Egypt. For the Muslims Ramadan is a time of rekindling community. These holy days serve as a time to deepen our faith, pay attention to the poor and promote reconciliation among people. Even for the non-believing, these practices are relevant because they have ethical and social justice significance: pay attention to the poor and liberate the captives.
In the context of these holy days over 400 religious leaders and people of faith and good will from many traditions: Episcopalians, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants of different denominations, Jews, Buddhist, Hindus, Muslims and others have signed an open letter to the government of Nicaragua. We are motivated by the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans since April of 2018.
The weight of grief carried by families who have lost loved ones, the anguish of families with members imprisoned for raising their voices in favor of human rights and the thousands who have had to go into exile and emigrate as a result of the conflict has moved us to raise our voice alongside these families.
During the 80’s many faith leaders and lay people made a preferential option for the poor and stood with the Nicaraguan people who suffered the effects of a war of aggression waged by the United States against Nicaragua. This commitment and its lingering memory left an indelible mark on my life and my Christian formation.
In my current ministerial context in Boston accompanying the unhoused population that includes Nicaraguan immigrants, we have heard the outcries of injustices and stories of pain and suffering, noting how the Nicaraguan government has unleashed violence and aggression against its own people by imprisoning, silencing, threatening, and punishing anyone who is not in agreement with their policies.
The government of Nicaragua today speaks of a preferential option for the poor but the closing of dozens of organizations, centers and NGO’s that worked with the most vulnerable populations, demonstrates quite the contrary. Instead, these actions reveal a decision to exercise absolute control.
The official discourse reiterated daily insists that Nicaragua lives in peace, joy, mutual coexistence, and security but these concepts have become a mirage attempting to ignore the suffering of thousands of Nicaraguan sisters and brothers. The uncertainty and anxiety sown in the country by way of authoritarian and arbitrary rule do not promote joy, peace, mutual coexistence or provide security, regardless of how many times those who govern repeat it.
In Nicaragua, it is forbidden to dissent, question or raise one’s voice in favor of the political prisoners, the dead, the exiled or the refugees. It is almost as if these people don’t exist for the government, as if they are not part of the Nicaraguan family. No matter how many times “Christianity” and “solidarity” are mentioned in the official discourse the government’s actions reveal a skewed vision.
The sadness of thousands of families who weep the departure of their sons and daughters risking their lives in search of freedom, jobs and opportunities in other countries cannot be ignored. The grief of hundreds of families who have members imprisoned or dead cannot be erased.
The reality for many Nicaraguan families this Lenten season is the anguish embodied in Mary facing the passion and death of her son. These holy days of prayer and fasting bring us to the reflection that we have posed as questions in an open letter to the Nicaraguan government: How is it possible to speak of peace and reconciliation with so many families subject to the crushing effects of imprisonment, exile, and grief? How can a nation prosper under the weight of so much suffering?
The purpose of the letter is to accompany those who are suffering and raise our voices so that joy, peace, tranquility, and security is restored to all Nicaraguan families. It is the least we can do for our sisters and brothers of our family, the human family, the family that God imagined.
*Reverend Paul Shoaf Kozak is an Episcopal priest at Cathedral at St. Paul in Boston, Massachusetts.