Dear Friends and Family,
Greetings from Nicaragua!
This past weekend we had our first Catholic Youth Bible Retreat in preparation for the Continental wide 2009 Catholic Youth Mission. There were 30 participants, made up of the small groups and Organizations where I am presently working. It was a very good Retreat.
The main goal was to create an environment of community and sharing. Then we sought to motivate the group by creating a deeper awareness of the reality of youth today in Nicaragua and how making the Word of God and the practice of the Sacraments part of their daily lives can indeed enable them to build their futures on a more solid ground.
This Retreat came at a very important moment. Nicaragua is going through a very chaotic situation with the past November 9th Mayoral elections.
Accusations of fraud have resulted in post-election violence, roaming bands armed with rocks, machetes and baseball bats, and the destruction of a few Radio stations, intimidations against the media and other acts of violence. To date this has produced at least 2 deaths and others wounded.
The saddest part is this spiral of violence is opening some of the deep, still unhealed, wounds of the past. The polarization between the current Government and the opposition Party is growing daily and threatening to further divide a society and a people who are already unemployed, tired, and hungry and at their limit, struggling to survive any way they can under a prolonged economic crisis, which has no light on the horizon. There is frustration, fear, tension and concern that this violent spiral of events could unravel in the coming weeks into a very conflictive situation at a National level. Presently, most of the violence is centered in Managua and the National Police has been doing a good job at protecting both sides of the population and preventing further violence.
So once again, in Nicaragua, you could say in a historical sense we are in “Biblical times”. However, I believe, that when in communion with our Catholic Tradition and other mainline Christians, we really can learn from Scripture about how History tends to repeat itself and discover we need to do in any current situation.
One thing is for sure, here in Nicaragua, we definitely need courage, faith and action on behalf of peace. I feel, more than ever, in today’s world we need to practice our faith and learn from the non-violent wisdom of Jesus in the Gospels. With each passing year I am coming to understand that it matters little what side of the dividing line you have been placed on by circumstance or class. There are times in history when “our world” is challenged, shaken and questioned to the core. We loose faith in God and at that moment appears a very real temptation to see the world and others as a dangerous battle ground.
We forget, as a people of God, who we are and to protect “our world” we quickly forget that the axis of Evil runs through the center of my own heart. Almost imperceptibly we begin to believe that the Evil one is “out there”. Precisely at that moment, the Devil has won his first battle. Issues tend to become confused. Complex reality gets over-simplified, the entire world gets separated into the “us versus them”, “evil capitalist vs. evil socialist”, “black vs. white” and “the good people vs. the evil people”. We are no longer the one human family God sees with loving eyes, but enemies to one another.
One thing I can tell you, from over 16 years in Latin America, is that much of the senseless death and massive brutal violence that happened (while we were partying back in High school and College) was perpetuated and justified in Central America by this same perverse and evil logic (over 50,000 people in Nicaragua, over 75,000 in El Salvador and 100,000 in Guatemala were killed in period of a little more than a decade). Other solutions could have been developed to resolve the underlying causes, which were related to the huge social inequalities. Sadly, these same social inequalities have changed very little for the majority of the populations of Central America.
As a Christian, I believe, we can only take one side: the side that seeks to reconcile divisions, the side that listens and brings clarity, the side that stands for Life and works to stop the tide of hatred and violence, whose only fruits are more death and violence.
Firstly, I must do this in my own heart, but we cannot stop there. We are called to re-create this world according to the vision of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. For me, this is what Jesus in the Gospels is calling us to today. It is the way of the Prophets standing on the side of the “widows and orphans”, taking on the Empires of their day and finding light, strength and clarity by being rooted in and directed by the Spirit of the God of Life.
In times like ours today, here in Nicaragua, or in the USA, I believe as Christians, we are called to be on the side of life from the womb to the tomb. We must strive to proclaim the “humble truth” revealed in life of Christ by our testimony. When we do that we can make a difference in whatever situation we find ourselves, but only in our fidelity to following in the non-violent foot prints of Jesus!
On a personal level, after I let some of the fears flow through me over these past few days, I eventually became more convinced of the urgent need for the work we are doing here: sharing the Good News with the poor. You cannot do that, if you don’t have a Bible in your hands and some one to help you understand some of its infinite treasures. I thank God for the work he is allowing me, through your help, to dedicate my life.
Yes, we can indeed take comfort in the Word of God, we can indeed find inspiration and the general direction to follow in any set of circumstance, if we open, pray with, and listen from the heart to the Word of the God of Life. And that is some thing we STAND upon!
To conclude, once again, I thank you all for your support, friendship and know that we are indeed on a Mission together.
May God bless you all and Gods speed on your great work!
Patrick T. Duffy, Jr.