Nicaragua's Other Revolution: Religious Faith and Political Struggle

By Michael Dodson; Laura Nuzzi O'Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

Seven
Reluigious Renewal and Popular Mobilization

When Fidel Castro led the victorious 26th of July Movement triumphantly into Havana on January 1, 1959, the Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches were unseen and unheard on the stage of this great drama in Cuban history. They played no part in making the Cuban Revolution possible because promoting social change was no part of their theological reflection or their pastoral programs. The Catholic church adhered to a traditional, sacramentalist view of its role in society, while the Evangelical churches were preoccupied with "saving souls" but had little concern for improving people's daily lives. In these respects the Cuban religious scene was representative of the situation throughout Latin America, although the advance of secularism and a corresponding lack of religious vitality in Cuba may have been at the high end of the spectrum. In any event, the churches were not in any way prepared for the revolution. When the revolutionary government adopted a socialist model of development and began establishing a close alliance with the Soviet Union, the Cuban churches moved into opposition or exile.

Twenty years after the Cuban revolutionaries marched into Havana, another band of guerrilla fighters entered their nation's capital in triumph. This time the revolution was in Nicaragua--ironically, the country from which the ill-fated Bay of Pigs expedition, which was intended to overthrow the Castro government, had been launched. In the first days after the Sandinista forces entered Managua on July 19, 1979, one of the major public events to celebrate the popular triumph over the hated Somoza regime was a mass presided over by Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo, which was attended by thousands of joyous Christians welcoming the revolution. Dozens of other masses were simultaneously celebrated in parishes throughout the country. These religious celebrations only hinted at the vital role played by Nicaraguan churches, and by thousands of individual Christians, in the popular insurrection.

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