Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, who will be made a cardinal at the Feb. 22 consistory, is said to personify the image of a humble shepherd of “a Church that is poor and for the poor.”
“At first I felt a nervousness, I was tempted to mourn … because I want to maintain always my origins, simple origins,” Archbishop Brenes said shortly after his appointment as a cardinal was announced Jan. 12.
Pope Francis “has set upon this humble servant, and therefore I wish to remain that pastor whom you know,” he added.
Pope Francis and Archbishop Brenes, who is 64, met in 2006 at the fifth conference of Latin American bishops; at the time, the two were presidents, respectively, of the Argentine and Nicaraguan bishops’ conferences.
Archbishop Brenes was born into a poor family in 1949 in Ticuantepe, a small town south of the Nicaraguan capital, whose shepherd he now is. He was ordained a priest of the Managua archdiocese in 1974, and began his ministry at an isolated parish in central Nicaragua.
He was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese in 1988, and was then made Bishop of Matagalpa in 1991. He served there for 14 years before returning to Managua as its archbishop in 2005.
Archbishop Brenes’ auxiliary, Bishop Silvio Baez Ortega, said in a Jan. 12 statement that his nomination as cardinal “is a recognition of his noble and generous pastoral labor for so many years in the Church in Nicaragua, of his disposition as a man of God, of his prudent and wise words, and of his loving nearness to the people.”
The archbishop is known for his desire that all Catholics be evangelizers: at his installation as head of the Managuan Church, he said that “what the Gospel needs most is personal witnesses of the faith,” calling for a “missionary and pilgrim” Church.
Along with the other Nicaraguan bishops, he has also been at times in opposition to the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, and his Sandinista administration.
Archbishop Brenes lives with and cares for his 86-year-old mother, Lilliam Solorzano Aguirre, who affectionately refers to him as “Leopoldito.” He is her firstborn child, and is particularly precious to her, according to Managua’s El Nuevo Diario, because she suffered six miscarriages before he was born.
She told the paper Jan. 14 that her son’s nomination as cardinal is “a moment of joy,” and related that when he received the news by telephone, he immediately went down from his room to tell her.
“Leopoldito was nervous, but was instantly filled with joy,” she said.
The prelate is the second Archbishop of Managua to be named a cardinal; he follows in the footsteps of his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, who is 88. According to Lilliam Solorzano, Cardinal Obando foreshadowed her son’s appointment by giving him, some years ago, a red cassock, saying, “take it, in case some day they make you a cardinal.”
She also related to El Nuevo Diario that her son knew from an early age that he was called to be a priest: “When Leopoldito was three he would say: ‘I am ‘padle’, because he could not say ‘padre.’”
Archbishop Brenes is among 19 men who will be given the red hat of a cardinal at the Vatican later this month. He is among five Latin Americans, and is the sole new cardinal from Central America.