The Santo Cristo de Esquipulas church in Nicaragua’s capital city overflowed with the sea of churchgoers who came to hear Monsignor Silvio Jose Baez, assistant bishop of Managua, this past Palm Sunday, April 14. On this day that begins the celebrations of Holy Week, Monsignor Baez used his homily to point out that Nicaragua is a “crucified people”, but “it will rise up again”.
The bishop recalled that the country is “about to commemorate a year of a crucified history”. This Holy Thursday marks the first anniversary of the April 18, 2018, events. It was the day on which a group of elderly people who were protesting proposed cuts to their pensions were brutally beaten in Leon, while in the capital city the self-organized citizens were attacked by Ortega directed mobs and the national police. From that day until now, the government repression has left a toll of 325 killed, over 3,000 injured, dozens missing, more than 700 political prisoners and approximately 60,000 exiled due to the political persecution.
“Our crucified God is present among the people who are oppressed by the deranged powerful; he’s present in societies impoverished by ambition and injustice; he’s present in the innocent victims of the repression; in the men and women tortured by the hatchet men of power; in the forgotten and those condemned for their religion. There he continues to cry out and suffer,” said the Monsignor.
“Today we contemplate Christ among our people, and we contemplate him to proclaim that God is on the side of the victim, not the executioner; that he’s on the side of the last, the impoverished, those that have been manipulated ideologically, the ones that suffer unconsolably, of those who have no hope, of the one who even today is still being martyred,” Baez declared.
The bishop recalled that within a few days he’ll be leaving Nicaragua for Rome at the request of Pope Francis, although he wants to leave a hopeful message: “A crucified people will always be resurrected.” Baez’ words inspired several minutes of applause and a sustained chant of: “Silvio, friend, the people are with you”.
“A crucified people is always resurrected. The only thing I ask of you is not to let anyone take away your hope. Nicaragua must be resurrected, just as the one crucified on Calvary rose again. Live your faith in Christ intimately, deeply, with all the seriousness it demands, without ever letting yourself be drawn into violence, without letting sadness darken your heart, without bargaining with the liberty and dignity of a human being, without being ambitious or being an idolater of anything or anybody,” emphasized Silvio Baez, who still doesn’t know his exact date for leaving, or his assignment in the Vatican.
“Nicaragua is going to be resurrected to become a society based on the justice from which flows true peace, a society in which it’s not a crime to think differently, in which we all can put our ideas and our material wealth to the service of all,” he added.
Alert for the faithful
Baez’ homily was interrupted several times by applause and expressions of affection from the Catholic faithful who arrived with blue and white flags, signs with messages of support, and photos of the Salvadoran saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, with whom they compare the Nicaraguan bishop due to his support for those persecuted and tortured by the Ortega regime.
Monsignor Baez cautioned the worshippers not to be “indifferent to the victims” of the socio-political crisis in the country. “Those who believe in the one crucified can’t forget or remain indifferent before the crucified victims of today, before the political prisoners, before the exiled, before those who are still in hiding out in fear, before the mothers who weep for those killed by the repression, before a people that isn’t allowed to decide, before a society that is heading off a precipice. That’s where the cross is, that’s where Jesus is crying.”
He indicated that faith in Christ shouldn’t limit the believers to merely say: “God is on their side”, but should motivate them to “fight tirelessly for dignity, freedom and the life of this people.”
“For those of us who believe in and follow Jesus, for those of us who have had revealed the ministry of redemption entailed by his death: the cross of Jesus isn’t a defeat, isn’t the last word, isn’t the end. The cross of Jesus is the force that sustains our hope and our struggle for a more humane country, amen,” the homily concluded.
At the conclusion of the mass, a sizable group of citizens held a lightning demonstration at the entrance to the church, accompanied by Nicaraguan music and slogans in favor of democracy and in support of Monsignor Baez.
Death of Jesus
The day’s gospel was on the passion and death of Jesus. According to Baez, it’s the story of “a shameful human history, full of vile deeds, of hatred and violence. Arrogant and hypocritical priests, cruel soldiers trained to torture and kill; mobs of people who’ve been manipulated and carried away by irrationality; vicious police, ambitious and corrupt; fearful and treasonous disciples.”
“Jesus dies because the religious authorities and the political powers of that era form an alliance to eliminate him and get him out of the way,” he said.
Previously, during the blessing of the palms, the bishop said that in his entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus was accompanied by a multitude, among which neither the wealthy, nor the powerful, nor the temple priests were to be found. “With him go the simple people, the poor, the pardoned sinners, the people.”
He emphasized the fact that Jesus changed the life of people with “the force of love, of mercy and of peace”, and that he didn’t do it through “violence, because nothing violent lasts. And not with the force of imposition, because he wants people who are free.”
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