The crisis in Nicaragua is posing a threat to vocations to the priesthood
by Josué Villalón
The inter-diocesan seminary of Our Lady of Fatima in Managua has had to be reorganised as a result of the conflict that is shaking the country.
Nicaragua is going through a grave social and political crisis which has left hundreds of people dead, as a result of the harsh repression by police and paramilitary groups close to President Daniel Ortega. The crisis is slowly creating a climate of economic instability that is growing steadily worse, month by month. The Catholic Church in Nicaragua is a crucial factor in achieving a peaceful solution to the conflict, but this has not left her immune to threats and violent attacks or from suffering, along with her people, as a result of the economic crisis.
Ordination in Matagalpa November 2018. Photographer Marisol Castañeda. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
Despite this difficult situation, the Church in Nicaragua continues with its mission of evangelisation and humanitarian support. Key to sustaining this difficult task is the formation of future priests, who will one day join the many others who are currently seeking to nurture a spirit of hope and peace within their communities. Unlike many other countries in the region of Central America, Nicaragua is blessed with numerous vocations to the priesthood, but the Church needs our support in order to be able to continue with their formation and so that no young man will have to abandon his vocation simply due to a lack of financial means.
Seminarians of the the interdiocesan seminary "Nuestra Señora de Fátima" in Managua. Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.
“Before the current crisis, we used to ask each seminarian to contribute nine Euros a month towards the cost of running the seminary. In addition to this each one would pay for his own personal toiletries. But now many of them are telling me they don’t have enough even for such basic necessities”, says Father Francisco Tigerino, the rector of the National Inter-diocesan Seminary of Our Lady of Fatima. Up until 2016, this was where the seminarians from seven of the nine ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the country would come to receive their formation – with the exception, that is, of the dioceses of Managua and Granada. But as a result of the crisis and the fact that the Church agreed to cede some of the premises in order to be able to conclude the first phase of the national dialogue, now only the theology students are still here. The rest have been forced to return to their own dioceses.
Seminarians at the Seminary "Seminario Nuestra Senora de Fatima": Receiving new books. Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.
“There are many needs, such as food and travel costs, but the heaviest burden is the maintenance of the building and the cost of light and power, which is steadily increasing owing to the lack of resources in the country”, says Father Tigerino. The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation, ACN International, is actively helping the inter-diocesan seminary, as it has for many years. This year, the rector explains, “your aid arrived exactly at the right time, just at the moment when we were most in need. Thanks to your contribution, we were able to cover the cost of maintaining the building, and paying the academic and secretarial staff.”
The seminarians, too, are extremely grateful for our aid. Engels Mauricio Berríos, who comes from the diocese of Leon, is in his first year of Theology. He says: “I am extremely grateful to all those who have so kindly thought of the needs of our seminary and who constantly support this noble work of the Church in forming men for the priestly life and so make it possible to spread the kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by training shepherds who, as Pope Francis says, will have the smell of the sheep.”
Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos (bishop of Matagalpa) with diocesan seminarians. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
This young man, 28 years of age, is also conscious of the value of the training he receives in the seminary of Our Lady of Fatima, a training in which he is able to share with other young men from other parts of Nicaragua, “thereby enabling us to mutually enrich one another through our shared life and our unity in Christ, despite our individual differences in the expression of our faith”.
Next to him, smiling, is Teófilo Jassiel Zamora, from the diocese of Siuna at the other end of the country. “We are truly brothers, even though we come from such different places”, he says. For Teófilo, being able to continue with his studies is of great importance, not only for his own family but for the whole of Nicaraguan society. “It is a great joy to us that despite the social, political and economic situation, this seminary is able to continue, thanks to your support. It would be a tragedy to have to abandon it on account of the political situation or the economic crisis, because it has been the home of all the priests in Nicaragua and is part of the patrimony of the Church.”
Engels Mauricio has also suffered many difficulties resulting from the crisis in the country. “I am conscious that these last few years have been a difficult time for my family, given the situation in our country, but despite this we continue to move forward as a Church, keeping alive the spirit of Christian hope, for in Christ we can do all things. Our bishops continue to be guardians of our nation, enlightening and accompanying the People of God.”
The rector, Father Tigerino, who watches over all these young men, assures us that they are hoping soon to see peace and stability return to their country, for “this is our daily prayer”. But at the same time he recognises that the situation is full of uncertainties. “There are a great many people who are leaving Nicaragua; there is a great deal of unemployment, factories and other workplaces have been forced to close because they have no money to pay their staff. Many of our students are from rural areas, and since the rains have come very late this year, some of their families have lost their means of livelihood.”
And he again thanks the benefactors of ACN for their solidarity. “May God bless you for your great generosity. What most impresses me is that there are people on the other side of the world who are helping us, people whom we will undoubtedly never meet or get to know. They are helping because we are all one Church, and for love of the Kingdom of God. We will continue with our training, moving forward as a Church, together with your help and the help of God.”
In Nicaragua ACN is not only helping the inter-diocesan seminary of Our Lady of Fatima, but is also supporting the training of 60 seminarians in the diocese of Granada and 37 seminarians in the new diocesan seminary of Matagalpa, in the central northern region of the country. ACN is also supporting various other exceptional projects for the establishment of new seminaries in other dioceses, in order to accommodate the seminarians who were obliged to leave the main inter-diocesan seminary. For example, in Juigalpa they have established a new seminary for the philosophy students in a former building in the diocese, and ACN has helped finance the refurbishment of the classrooms and the residential wing for the seminarians.