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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 5 | Octubre 1981



Religious News In Nicaragua

The term “popular church” has been used extensively and has been discussed in other parts of Latin America, notably in El Salvador and Guatemala. The term had not been used here until recently.

Envío team

In the religious news in Nicaragua this month, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the “Iglesia Popular”, the Popular Church, and regarding the Christian Base Communities.

The term “popular church” has been widely used, and debated, in other parts of Latin America, notably El Salvador and Guatemala. It has not been used here until recently. Even now, this term is used by those in opposition to this “popular church”, although those to whom the term refers do not use it, nor do they want to use it, as they feel it can cause misunderstanding and confusion.

The conservative Centro de Estudios Religiosos, which publishes articles on religious topics in La Prensa several times a week, says:

“Scattered through many Latin American countries (and concentrated in countries where Marxism has triumphed) a new movement is found which calls itself Christian, identified by such names as Christians for Socialism, Popular Church, Base Christians, Revolutionary Christians, Movement of Priests for the Third World (Argentina), Priests for Socialism (Chile), Priests for the People (Mexico), etc. Its teachings are spread in Nicaragua by the Centro Valdivieso, the Instituto Histórico and CEPA…

“Everything Christian is disregarded and there is extreme orthodoxy in Marxism.
“Love is lived in the Popular Church in antagonism and confrontation.
“Any concept of ecclesiastical legality is rejected in the Popular Church.
“Everyone is saved and all are living temples of God, without having to do anything else.
“A deposit of faith is denied and it is affirmed that faith is found in revolutionary practice.
“Christ is a persona who has almost nothing to offer to those of the Popular Church”. – “La Iglesia Popular, ¿Cristiana o Marxista? La Prensa, Sept. 3, 1981.

Regarding the Comunidades de Base, or Christian Base Communities, the accusations have been that they are really Communist cells, they are not in communion with the bishops, they are trying to found a “Church of the poor”, or a “Popular Church”

In an article by a religious writer, Róger Ferry C., in El Nuevo Diario on September 19, 1981, he expressed the following analysis of this opposition:

“In reality here in Nicaragua, an authentic manipulation is being carried out, implemented at a Latin American level, to separate the Church, especially the pastors, from the poor and their project of liberation. They want to make the Church a force of resistance to the profound change of political, economic and social structures that the Church itself has advocated (Puebla 1155). They want to insure that the bishops will never again say that the poor have ‘the possibility to be the true protagonists of their own development,’ (Puebla 1129) because evidently this implies assuming the leadership from those who have always had power, wealth, advantages and abusive and anti-evangelical privileges, and who demonstrated before history their absolute incapacity to undertake profound changes”.

In future envíos, we hope to treat this phenomenon of the “Popular church” in depth. In this issue, however, we would like to include excerpts from a statement by the Christian Base Communities of Managua, which was published on September 9, 1981.


We have been asked to state publicly who we, the Ecclesial Base Communities (CEB) in Nicaragua, are in the face of the accusations made against us.

We do not want to create unnecessary or prejudicial polemics or conflicts for our Church and our community. We see two aspects in the accusations publicly thrown at the CEB’s: One is inter-ecclesial, and we want to deal with it within the Church in familial dialogue with our Archbishop; the other is the public confusion and the bad name that has been given us by some sectors. We direct ourselves to these sectors and to the public, declaring our Catholic identity to them.


We have never in the past created a “parallel magisterium” or teaching authority, and even less so now. We are not going to give doctrines about what the CEB’s are or what they should be. It seems that in other areas they have different characteristics. But here, we definitively do not and will not create a “parallel magisterium”, because we have as the only valid magisterium in the Catholic Church that of our Teacher and Lord of all, Jesus Christ, and that of his successors, the Apostles, and our bishops in communion with all the bishops of the Church united to the Pope. We recognize our pastors, teachers of the faith, as vehicles for the Holy Spirit in order to help us to live according to the Word of God as did Jesus Christ himself.

The whole accusation that attributes a “parallel magisterium” to us, in this writing or in any of our meetings or declarations, is false.


The CEB’s were born in Managua during the 60’s and 70’s in a very normal manner from the pastoral and liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council through the archdiocesan parochial life with our pastors. The Word of God brought us little by little to feel with the heart of Christ the sufferings of our people. With our whole Church, we joined the struggle of the people against the Somoza dictatorship in the Insurrection.

After the victory, we received great illumination and encouragement from our Bishops in their Pastoral Letter of November of 1979, “Christian Commitment for a New Nicaragua”. They asked us to concretize our Christian life and our preferential option for the poor in the revolutionary process, according to the demands of the reconstruction of Nicaragua in favor of the majority. They said to us, “It would be a grave infidelity to the Gospel if, out of fear and suspicion, out of the insecurity that all processes of social change create, in defense of large or small individual interests, we were to let pass this demanding moment for concretizing the preferential option for the poor. This we were called to do by John Paul II and by the Episcopal Conference at Medellin”.

Medellin and Puebla confirmed the CEB’s in Latin America as a renewal, calling them “our face of the Latin American Church” and an “expression of the preferential love of the Church for the common people”, (Puebla 643, 617-657, 1147). Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi, called the CEB’s the “hope of the Church”, (58)

Following the inspiration of the Spirit, this renewal of the Church has also grown in our country in order to fulfill its mission in the city and in the country among the poor.


We know well that Medellin, Puebla, Paul VI and the whole Magisterium of the Church set conditions in order that the CEB’s be authentically “ecclesial” and do not disintegrate into sects or simply political groups. We believe that we, with our faults as sinners, fulfill these conditions. We demonstrate it by telling how we live, what we struggle for and what we believe in.

We meet together weekly with our parish priests. Through them, we keep alive the communion of faith with our Pastors, the Bishops, whom we repeatedly invite to our meetings and celebrations.

In our meetings, we listen in community to the Word of God, we reflect and pray about it, and in its light we analyze our life, the life and process of our people and the reality of our whole Church. We pray for everyone. We pray a great deal and with great faith and hope (we say this with simplicity) and also in light of the Word of God. We ask pardon for our sins, and we take up our commitments and tasks in favor of our neighbors and our people. We celebrate Mass, said by our pastors, with the whole Christian community.

It is obvious and normal that we assume our Christian commitments and tasks within the process in which our people live, of which we are a part, and in whose struggle we always participated with the whole Church. We see this as the will of God for us and the will of our Bishops, who asked it of us in their Pastoral Letter, cited above.

We know that this Revolution and this process are limited and have errors; that is normal. We know that they are not “identified” with the Kingdom of God. Therefore, if we support them and participate in them, within the popular organizations, we do it motivated by our Catholic faith, and we also do it critically. We see this process as a historical channel and mediation in which we embody the mission of the whole Church in favor of the poor, in order to open the way to the growth of the Kingdom of God that transcends this and every historical process, this and every concrete political project.

In the new frontiers of this Nicaraguan process, we see that the Good News of “values” that would humanize the Revolution to the greatest extent can be “announced” to Christians and non-Christians, reinforcing the role of the poor with their dignity as children of the God who raised up the Crucified and made him a “guide” who brings us all to the full liberation of the poor.

We are sure that in that new frontier of evangelization in which we have decided to be with the poor, our faith in Jesus Christ and the perennial values of Catholicism are confirmed and enriched: the Sacred Scriptures; the Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium; the Sacraments; prayer and penance; filial veneration to the Virgin; devotion to the Saints; communication and obedience in faith to our Bishops and their priests; Christian communion with all our brothers and sisters – not only members of our communities but all Catholics and those Christian brothers and sisters of other denominations including those who do not think as we do and take other options; also those who accuse us, or slander us and who can all feel as our enemies. The universal love of God the Father causes us to love all persons, particularly our own people and all those who struggle and suffer for universal liberation.

As the whole Church, we should examine our options with regard to the Gospel in order to succeed in uniting ourselves as Jesus wants, in the love of the Spirit, for the poor, made effective in Nicaragua with structural changes that favor the majority whom God loves in a special way, because they need it as those of the world “wounded” by injustice and oppression.


According to the accusations that some make against us and propagate, the CEB’s are not Catholic, we are Christian political groups, we have a supposed affiliation to the FSLN from whom we receive our directions, we are Marxist–Leninists who “identify” the Kingdom of God with the Sandinista Revolution, we spread class hatred, we divide the Church, we recognize neither the Bishops nor the Pope, we are an “other Church”. They even accuse us of being cells of international Communism.

These accusations are concentrated in the expression “Popular Church”. We think, like John Paul II, that expression can be badly misinterpreted, and we only recognize as valid the meaning that the same John Paul II gave in Puebla to the formula with which Brazil designated the CEB’s saying they are “the Church that comes out of the faith response which we give to Christ”. (Inaugural Speech) As CEB’s we are not those aberrations that some designate as “Popular Church”, assigning to them meanings such as “Church” in opposition to the hierarchical and institutional church. We are the CEB’s that the one Catholic Church recognizes as a “new face” or “hope of the Church” (Paul IV), the “expression of preferential love of the Church for the common people”. (Puebla)…


The one, common faith of the Church is our faith. The one Creed of the Catholic Church is our Creed. As Puebla says, in each time and place our particular churches and communities express nuances and express the one faith for common richness in a characteristic way. (Puebla 618, 368) Our identity is Catholic in the full sense, and in a journalistic synthesis – not as a different creed from the one Creed – we summarize all that it expresses:

We believe in God the Father of all persons who loves in a special way his poorest and most suffering children.

We believe in Jesus Christ, God and Man, born of the Virgin Mary, anointed and sent with the Spirit to announce the Good News to the poor and oppressed and to offer to all the love that changes the heart and the structures until it makes them share the good things and the bad as brothers and sisters who begin to live the Kingdom of the Father.

We believe that, according to the Scriptures, Jesus was crucified by the authorities, the high priests and teachers of the law, accused of blasphemy and subversion. And by his faithful love, the Suffering Servant rose, founded his Church on Peter and the Apostles and left his Spirit with it to complete his mission: to live his life, to announce his Good News and suffer his fate of dying and rising for the Kingdom of equality of all children of God.

In the Church we venerate Mary, the Mother of God, as Mother and Model for the Church; those saints and martyrs as brothers and sisters who have arrived ahead of us in the life of the Father whose Sacrament calls us to the unity of believers for which Jesus died and rose.

We recognize the charismas with which the Spirit builds the Church as the visible body of Christ under the discernment and Magisterium of the Bishops with the Pope.

We profess the forgiveness of sins, the communion of Saints and the unity of Christians as a gift of the Spirit that calls us to make it a reality, “drawing nearer” with love around those most poor and wounded, the suffering faces of Christ who, from his cross, draws all of us to the resurrection and full liberation in his kingdom of life eternal. AMEN.

Ecclesial Base Communities of Managua.

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