Hugo Torres, then head of the political leadership of the Nicaraguan Army in those years, recalled that there was heavy security to protect the pope, also because one day before the pope’s arrival, 17 young Sandinistas were killed by the “Contras,” the counterrevolutionary group financed by the United States that engaged in a civil war with the Sandinistas for a decade.
John Paul II then went by helicopter to León, where he said a few brief words to the faithful present before returning to Managua.
Disruptions at Mass and the pope’s response
At the beginning of the Mass and before hundreds of thousands of people present, the then archbishop of Managua, Miguel Obando Bravo, greeted John Paul II and compared his visit to one made by Pope John XXIII to a prison in Rome.
During John Paul II’s homily, in addition to the faithful cheering the pope and Obando — who would later become a cardinal — groups of Sandinistas also shouted slogans in favor of their revolution.
“Between Christianity and revolution there is no contradiction,” “Power to the people,” “The people united will never be defeated,” “The people’s Church,” and “We want peace” were some of the slogans they shouted.
The shouting angered the pope, who asked for silence more than once and finally told them: “Silence. The Church is the first to want peace.”
According to the Spanish newspaper El País, John Paul II also went off script and said: “Beware of false prophets. They present themselves in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are ferocious wolves.”
At the end of the Mass, the Sandinistas played their anthem, after which the pope was taken to the airport, where he was again received by the current dictator Ortega, who reproached him for leaving without praying for the 17 youths killed by the Contras and justified the shouting by the Sandinistas during the Mass.
“The pope didn’t do it (pray for the dead) because I think he thought that any word he said in that regard could be interpreted as a word of support for the revolution,” Hugo Torres recalled.
In his farewell speech, John Paul II did not respond to Ortega’s attacks but rather expressed his thanks for the welcome he received and encouraged the Christians.
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“In fidelity to your faith and to the Church, I bless you from my heart — especially the elderly, children, the sick, and those who suffer — and I assure you of my enduring prayer to the Lord, so that he may help you at all times,” the pilgrim pope said.
“God bless this Church. God assist and protect Nicaragua! So be it,” he concluded.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.