Friday, May 6, 2011

Maria Lopez Vigil: Behind the human face of Jesus and the feminine one of God

Religious educators and pastoral agents in Latin America's Christian base communities know her for her catechetical radio series, Un Tal Jesús, co-produced with her brother José Ignacio, which imagines a brown-skinned Jesus fighting for social justice. Central America activists know her for her writings on the church during El Salvador's civil war and particularly for her collection of vignettes about the life of the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor Romero, piezas para un retrato. Today, people in her adopted country, Nicaragua, know her as a prize-winning author of children's books and a defender of their rights. Maria Lopez Vigil is all these things and more, and we are pleased to bring you the English translation of this recent article by Laura Rodríguez Rojas from El Nuevo Diario (4/10/2011) to catch up with this extraordinary woman, as she shares her thoughts about the world and the Church today.

Entering her office, nothing reveals that Maria Lopez Vigil was a nun for 13 years in a convent in Barcelona. The place is small and crowded with books, but it has two large windows that let in a bright sun.

She dresses simply. A blue skirt and white shirt. Wears no hint of makeup or jewelry, which shows that for her, material goods are in the plane of unreality. Only a small detail reveals that this is not an ordinary woman, a painting by Remedios Varo called Weaving the skin of the world.

At first glance it seems like any other painting, in which one sees a small workshop where industrious women are weaving the skin of the world, but a trained eye can discover the paradox. The person who leads the group of weavers is dressed as a man, but is also a woman.

At 16 she left Cuba

And it's that Maria Lopez Vigil has always been a revolutionary who has contrasted the norms set by the Vatican with a more human and feminine image of God.

The wrinkles on her face reflect the passing of the years in her body, but her words and the brightness of her eyes contradicted her age. She assures that she is still the same girl who emigrated from Cuba at age 16, all that has changed is the number of subjects she has had to study in this earthly world.

María López Vigil left her homeland for ideological reasons since, due to the triumph of the Cuban revolution, her family decided to emigrate to be faithful to their dogmatic view of a Catholicism that didn't yield to Communist ideas.

Her father studied for the priesthood in Rome and later journalism, aspects that marked María López Vigil's life indelibly. She grew up in an environment where a strict Catholic militancy coupled with a strong social commitment was always practiced, but without the gifts that years later would bring her to the trend known as "liberation theology".

Ideological prison

That was how, at age 16, Maria Lopez Vigil decided to take the habit and give herself wholly to the service of God, believing that in the convent she would find the opportunity to live out and make Jesus' words her own. But she became disenchanted with the reality very soon.

"I realized that I was in an ideological prison where my vows contrasted with reality. You called yourself officially poor but you had everything, you called yourself officially free and loyal to Jesus Christ, but you obeyed a superior who lived outside the reality of the poor," said Lopez Vigil.

The "straw that broke the camel's back" was the position of the religious hierarchy in 1974, when the Pope celebrated the power grab by the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

By then, Maria Lopez Vigil had already completed her studies in journalism, so she made the decision to abandon a life that did not meet her expectations. But during those years, she had taken up a machete she would never abandon: words.

Now outside the church, López Vigil got in touch with a current called liberation theology, which taught her that there is no faith without social commitment, that the poor should be subjects of their own history, and that the Vatican had monopolized the figure of Jesus for its personal profit.

"At that time I was working in Spain for the magazine Nueva Vida ("New Life"), and I had documented the killing of Pablo Freire, the Sandinista revolution, the complicity of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, and the obvious fact that the Church was more allied with the rich than the poor. This accentuated my leftist ideas, although I never walked away from Jesus. But yes, it made me understand that His ideas were being monopolized," recalls Lopez Vigil.

The arrival in Nicaragua

In 1981, Maria Lopez Vigil met the Jesuit provincial in Nicaragua, Father Cesar Jerez, who convinced her to come to Nicaragua to work for Revista Envío.

"I always had a deep sense of rootlessness because of my exile, and I needed a country that would adopt me. The revolution had triumphed that year and, as I sympathized with leftist ideas, I saw the possibility of finding in Nicaragua a place to practice a true Christianity in favor of the poor," said Lopez Vigil.

And in Nicaragua she continued her deep process of reflection, and began to question many of the learned and preconceived ideas about God.

Thus was born the idea for the radio series “Un tal Jesús” ("A certain Jesus"), to restore the human face of Jesus, a production that earned her the rejection of the Vatican and the Central American Bishops' Conference, but that woke many sleeping consciences.

"With 'Un tal Jesús' my brother and I intended to show that Jesus was a poor Jew, a religious leader who imagined God in a such a novel way that they killed Him, but a man of flesh and bone. Jesus did not come into the world to wash away sins or suffer on the cross, and He did not save us by His death, but with His ideas of equity and social justice," asserts Lopez Vigil.

Her struggle for women

“Un tal Jesús” and others of her "paper children", as this woman calls her literary productions, went around the world and generated a whole debate within the feminist movement.

In this book, Maria Lopez Vigil made it clear that women paid a high price within Christianity, because it spread negative ideas about God, Jesus and Mary.

"The churches show us a bloodthirsty tyrant God who sent His son to wash away our sins. A Jesus untouchable and above all men, a mother who conceived her son in an unnatural way through the intervention of an angel, and a woman, Eve, who led Adam into sin. All these ideas reinforce the negative ideas that deal with women and that are just the product of a masculine religion," says Lopez Vigil.

She was threatened with excommunication and the book was banned in many countries, but this only inspired her to move forward in her struggle to give back to women their confiscated right: to talk to God.

"The success of 'Un tal Jesús' led me to the conclusion that it is necessary to take away from priests, who are all male, the monopoly on the words of God, otherwise women will always be in a position of subordination. Religious institutions have taken away from us the words with which to speak of the mystery of God, who doesn't fit in any dogma, any law, any religion. We must not allow it," said Lopez Vigil vigorously.

The feminine face of God

María López Vigil could be seen by many as a reactionist, because her proposals break with the dogmatic school of the Catholic hierarchy, but that is where her greatest contribution to the freedom of women lies.

"As women, we have the right to review all dogmas, to recover the feminine face of God, because, where God is male, all men think they're gods. God is mother, grandmother and source of protection, He has the face of father and mother. As long as women leave the things of God in the hands of the hierarchies of the churches, we will not be free to reflect and decide," says this former Teresian nun.

The violence of women has religious roots

Maria Lopez Vigil has devoted her life to the feminist struggle to transform the concept of God through her literary output, self-help workshops in the communities, seminars and radio programs, because women can not be free until they learn that transgressing the unfair rules within the Church is also an act of deep Christian faith.

"The deepest root of violence against women is religious, and it is in the idea that God is male, because, even though in the mind of humankind God was born a woman, with agriculture, the accumulation of surplus, tribal wars and military conquests, it created what we now call the patriarchal culture. Women have to recover the feminist identity of Jesus to feel more free and worthy to make decisions, talk and be happy," says Lopez Vigil.

To this reporter, the message of the priests and pastors only strengthens feelings of guilt and fear of God in women, because it is a way to exert control over their consciences.

To deal with this machinery, women must know that they are beloved by God, think of Him as a loving mother and not a stern and bloodthirsty judge who sends His son to suffer.

"Jesus lived in a society where there was conflict between those who had power and those who didn't. They killed Him for denouncing these conflicts. Jesus didn't come to die because God doesn't like suffering. That's a sadistic idea that we should revise so as not to be trapped by it," says Lopez Vigil.

The Bible isn't God's word

María López Vigil isn't afraid to defend what, in her opinion, has been a book that has served to reproduce undemocratic patriarchal and socio-cultural referents: the Bible. "The Bible is a book that was written by men and is preached by men, but it's not the word of God. It's a book that places woman in a subordinate position and shows her as a sinful Eve. And that myth has cost us discrimination, recrimination and violence of all kinds. So we should keep some distance from it, even though it's a family book," Lopez Vigil advises.

Her role as political analyst

Because of her religious analyses, Maria Lopez Vigil has also ventured into the political arena, but says it's what she least enjoys. For her, politics lacks ethics and imagination, but is an inseparable part of being human.

"Jesus always criticized the authorities and sided with the poor, not the powerful. But not by displaying them as trophies to give alms, but rather making them subjects of their own lives. That is true Christianity, without the personality cult, and with the possibility of placing oneself on an equal footing with governments to criticize them and point out their mistakes, as did Jesus with those who had the power," she says.

Her greatest fear: death

However, this woman of strong character and defiant attitude confesses to having a great fear: death. It's a fear that she has suffered since childhood, because the unknown generates sadness and uncertainty in her.

"I love experiencing life's surprises and it scares me to think that one day it will end. That this will be the last sun, that I will never see a bird fly or a tree grow again, so I support what the poet José Valverde said: "God, anesthetize me for death as you have done to others with life," she comments laconically.

Her love for Nicaragua

For this loquatious writer, Nicaragua is a fascinating country that she fell in love with for its anarchy, the possibility of the unexpected, and the beauty of its language. Therefore, although she became a Nicaraguan citizen in March 1990, she received her passport many years earlier.

"I became Nicaraguan when I was honored for the book Un Güegüe me contó ("A Güegüe told me"). It's a book in which the Nicaraguan language is reconstructed and the brilliance of its words is rescued," says Lopez Vigil.

Today, Nicaragua is the place where she wants to breathe her last breath, the place where she has done the three things after which she can die in peace: planting a tree, writing a book and having a child, because although she never married or gave birth to natural children, she has "paper ones": her books.

"I want to fertilize a guayacán shoot or for them to throw my ashes into Lake Xiloá because I have taken root here, I've produced flowers, I've born fruit and I've lived the happiest moments of my life," she asserts.


Books by Maria Lopez Vigil:

Children's Books by Maria Lopez Vigil:

1. Un Güegüe me contó (Managua: Fundación Libros para Niños, 2009)
2. Historia del muy bandido, igualado, rebelde, astuto, pícaro y siempre bailador Güegüense (Managua: Fundación Libros para Niños, 2007).
3. La balanza de Don Nicolás Sandoval (Managua: Anamá Ediciones, 1999).
4. Los dientes de Joaquín (Managua: Fundación Libros para Niños, 2007)
5. Cinco noches arrechas (Managua: Fundación Libros para Niños, 2008).
6. La lechera y el carbonero (Managua: Fundación Libros para Niños, 2010)

Other interviews with María López Vigil


  1. Esta artículo sobre María López Vigil es muy interesante. Necesitamos más mujeres como ella. La dispersión cubana ha dado bueno frutos en muchas partes del mundo, pero tenemos que rezar por nuestra querida Cuba, que sigue sufriendo bajo la dictadura de los Castro. La siguiente información es sobre una cubana que sigue escribiendo desde Cuba para denunciar los abusos que se cometen ...

    Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today
    Yoani Sanchez, Melville House, 26 April 2011

    Yoani Sánchez Wins CEPOS Freedom Award
    Human Rights Foundation, New York, 16 November 2010

    Yoani Sánchez en muletas por la golpiza
    Dated 9 November 2009

    ¿Saben ustedes si ella es cristiana?


  2. Amigo, I am not Cuban. Neither I read much of what is going on there, but...does it matter if she is Christian? Christ didn’t come over here to make Christians; he came over to tech us the way to freedom and to eternal life. Freedom from human boundaries. Internal and external. “He/She who thirst for justice…will be satisfied”.
    She is a martyr and a freedom fighter. She believes in human rights and loves her country and country man.
    Then…yes she is a Christian. If not in religious denomination, certainly in spirit. ♦

  3. I certainly agree that to be a Christian has little to do with formal affiliation with a church or any other religious institution. To be a Christian is to think and act like Jesus in daily life. This is what I had in mind when I wrote my comment, and the fact that, while I profess to be a Christian, I so often fail miserably to act like one. Thanks for the reminder! Luis

  4. I am manuel the el Salvador, donde se ha escrito mucho en estas obras , lei don lito de el salvador, y me gusto , y unos 6 meses despues encuentro datos de la autora, felicidades, espero que al menos adopte un niño antes de morir, creo que con eso tendra menos miedo a la muerte..., pero felicidades por su trabajo me gusto su obra y si tuviera otras obras de ella ahorita las viera... gracias...

  5. felicidades por su trabajo lei don lito de el salvador