Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaraguan priest, poet and revolutionary icon, dies at 95

Ernesto Cardenal, the famous Roman Catholic poet and ecclesiastic who became a symbol of revolutionary worms in Nicaragua and Latin America, and whose suspension of the priesthood by Saint John Paul II lasted more than three decades, died on Sunday. He was 95 years old.

Known for his branded black beret and loose white peasant shirts, the author of works such as “Epigrams” and “Zero Hour” was one of the most important and honored poets in the history of Nicaragua. Cardenal wrote verses that went around the world and lived until his last days with a lucidity that inspired amazement and admiration in the literary world.

“Our beloved poet has begun the process of integration into the universe, with the greatest intimacy with God,” said his personal assistant, Luz Marina Acosta, on Sunday.

Bosco Centeno, a close friend of Cardenal, told the Associated Press that the poet was hospitalized a few days ago in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, for a heart problem.

Cardenal has received numerous awards in his lifetime, including the Reina Sofia poetry award in 2012 and the German Bookstore Peace Prize in 1980.

The Argentine poet Jorge Boccanera once said of Cardenal’s writing that he “loses his life and at the same time discovers it in a profound speech; to dedicate themselves and offer themselves in this dialogue of soul and blood. ”

Cardenal was also an essayist and sculptor, and the herons he fashioned from stone and metal are highly prized in cultural circles in Central America.

Born January 20, 1925 in a wealthy family in the colonial city of Granada, southeast of the Nicaraguan capital, Cardenal became a priest in Colombia and later fell in love with the left liberation theology movement that swept through ‘Latin America in the 1960s, focused on serving the poor and freeing the oppressed.

On the Solentiname Islands in Lake Nicaragua, he founded a community of peasants, poets and painters in 1966 who came to symbolize artistic opposition to the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, overthrown in 1979 by the Sandinista rebels.

Cardenal actively supported the revolution and was Minister of Culture under the first government of the former Sandinista guerilla Daniel Ortega – which pushed him to go against Pope John Paul II at the time, who strongly argued that religious should not hold political office. The pontiff was also resolutely anti-communist and opposed certain parts of liberation theology.

In 1983, John Paul publicly berated Cardenal at Managua International Airport at the start of a tense visit. When Cardenal knelt before the pope and moved to kiss his hand, the pontiff withdrew it and pointed his finger at him in an instant caught in a widely distributed photograph.

“You should regularize your situation,” scolded the pope. Later that year, he suspended Cardenal from the priesthood with his brother Fernando, then Minister of Education.

It was only late in life that the suspension of Cardenal was lifted by Pope Francis: in February 2019, while Cardenal was in hospital, the Vatican noted that he had accepted the punishment, had abstained from all pastoral activity and had long since abandoned the political arena.

The Vatican ambassador to Nicaragua visited him at the hospital and joined him in celebrating Mass, a moment that Cardenal’s personal assistant described as “very moving” and who made it ” very happy”.

Although Cardenal never held a political post again, that didn’t mean that he was hesitant to say what he thought, and the former Ortega supporter distanced himself from his former Sandinista sympathizers over his disagreement. with the partisan leadership of the ex-guerilla.

After Ortega’s return to the presidency in 2007, Cardenal denounced what he called the start of a “family dictatorship”. And in 2018, when anti-government protests broke out, which posed the greatest challenge to Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian grip, Cardenal quickly aligned with the opposition.

“What we want is for a different government, a democratic republic,” he said in a handwritten message of support, adding that dialogue with the Ortega camp would be useless.

“Now suddenly, across the country, young people have risen up in protests and taken to the streets,” said Cardenal, “something unexpected because young people seemed to be sleeping, or that a burial slab was fell on them. ”

As he turned his back on Ortega, the official Sandinista administration turned his back on him.

Cardenal was faced with legal issues which he attributed to “political persecution” for his criticism of Ortega and Rosario Murillo, the first lady of Ortega and currently vice-president. And in 2015, when Cardenal turned 90, he was celebrated in Mexico – where he had lived and studied theology as a young man – because the Sandinista government had nothing but silence for a man whom ‘He considered forgiveness.

Cardenal continued to have an obscure vision of Jean-Paul for decades after their break-in, describing his canonization in 2014 as “monstrosity”.

He was more supportive of Francis and his calls to build a better world for those on the margins of society.

“I try to live with the gospel message,” said Cardenal, “which is a political message that changes the world so that there is a better world after 100,000 years of inequality.”