Ernesto Car­de­nal, Nicaraguan poet and priest, dies at 95

Times Standard (Eureka) - - FAITH - By Gabriela Selser

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA >> Ernesto Car­de­nal, the renowned poet and Ro­man Catholic cleric who be­came a sym­bol of revo­lu­tion­ary verse in Nicaragua and around Latin Amer­ica, and whose sus­pen­sion from the priest­hood by St. John Paul II lasted over three decades, died Sun­day. He was 95.

Known for his trade­mark 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 Nicaraguan his­tory. Car­de­nal penned verse that went around the globe, 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 in­te­grat­ing with the uni­verse, with the great­est in­ti­macy with God,” his per­sonal as­sis­tant, Luz Ma­rina Acosta, said Sun­day.

Bosco Cen­teno, a close friend of Car­de­nal, told The As­so­ci­ated Press the poet was hos­pi­tal­ized in Nicaragua’s cap­i­tal of Managua a cou­ple of days ago with a heart prob­lem.

Car­de­nal re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards dur­ing his life­time in­clud­ing the Reina Sofia po­etry prize in 2012, and the Peace Prize of the Ger­man Book Trade in 1980.

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 de­liv­ery; in con­se­crat­ing and of­fer­ing him­self in that 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 Cen­tral Amer­i­can cul­tural cir­cles.

Born Jan. 20, 1925, to a wealthy fam­ily in the colo­nial city of Granada south­east of the Nicaraguan cap­i­tal, Car­de­nal be­came a priest in Colom­bia and later be­came en­am­ored of the left­ist Lib­er­a­tion The­ol­ogy move­ment that swept through Latin Amer­ica dur­ing the 1960s, cen­tered on min­is­ter­ing to the poor and lib­er­at­ing the op­pressed.

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

Car­de­nal ac­tively sup­ported the revo­lu­tion and served as cul­ture min­is­ter dur­ing the first gov­ern­ment of for­mer San­din­ista guer­rilla Daniel Ortega — caus­ing him to run afoul of then-Pope John Paul II, who firmly held that cler­ics should not hold po­lit­i­cal of­fice. The pon­tiff was also staunchly anti-com­mu­nist and op­posed some parts of Lib­er­a­tion The­ol­ogy.

In 1983, John Paul pub­licly up­braided Car­de­nal at Managua’s in­ter­na­tional air­port at the begin­ning of a tense visit. When Car­de­nal knelt in front of the pope and moved to kiss his hand, the pon­tiff with­drew it and pointed his fin­ger at him in a mo­ment caught in a widely cir­cu­lated pho­to­graph.

“You should reg­u­lar­ize your sit­u­a­tion,” the pope scolded. Later that year he sus­pended Car­de­nal from the priest­hood along with his brother Fer­nando, who was then serv­ing as min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion.

Only late in life was Car­de­nal’s sus­pen­sion lifted by Pope Fran­cis: In Fe­bru­ary 2019, as Car­de­nal was in the hos­pi­tal, the Vatican noted that he had ac­cepted the pun­ish­ment, re­frained from pas­toral ac­tiv­ity and long ago aban­doned the po­lit­i­cal arena.

The Vatican’s 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 said made him “very happy.”

While Car­de­nal never held po­lit­i­cal of­fice again, that didn’t mean he shied away from speak­ing his mind, and the erst­while sup­porter of Ortega dis­tanced him­self from his for­mer San­din­ista sym­pa­thiz­ers over his dis­agree­ment with the ex-guer­rilla’s par­ti­san lead­er­ship.


Nicaraguan priest and poet Ernesto Car­de­nal in his home while un­der house ar­rest, in Managua, Nicaragua. Car­de­nal has died on March 1ac­cord­ing to his per­sonal as­sis­tant Luz Ma­rina Acosta.

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