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".
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:
- Un Tal Jesús / A Certain Jesus by Jose Ignacio and Maria Lopez Vigil. Note: The English text of the radio series also became the basis of a 3-volume series published in 2000 by Crossroad Publishing: Just Jesus Vol.I: A People Starving for Love, Just Jesus Vol.II: The Message of a Better World, Just Jesus Vol.III: The Passion Book. A Spanish 2-volume print version was issued under the title Un Tal Jesus: La Buena Noticia Contaga Al Pueblo De America Latina with a prologue by the late Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria, SJ by UCA Editores in 1992. For a quick summary of the Catholic Church's opposition to Un tal Jesús, see Críticas eclesiásticas a la obra "Un tal Jesús", de María López Vigil (El Pais, 9/12/1981).
- Otro Dios es posible/ Another God is possible. This is another radio collaboration by Jose Ignacio and Maria Lopez Vigil. The premise is a series of "exclusive interviews" with Jesus Christ on his second coming to Earth, available in both Spanish (audio and text) and English (text only). The Spanish text is also available in a book, Otro Dios es posible, by Jose Ignacio and Maria Lopez Vigil (Editorial Diana, 2010)
- Monseñor Romero, piezas para un retrato por Maria Lopez Vigil (translated into English as Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic (EPICA, 2000) but currently out of print)
- Don Lito del Salvador: Proceso de una fe martirial (Claret, 1982), translated into English as Don Lito of El Salvador (Orbis, 1990)
- Death & Life in Morazan: A Priest's Testimony from a War-Zone in El Salvador, edited by Maria Lopez Vigil (EPICA, 1989)
- Marxismo Y Cristianismo En Morazan: Testimonio Del Padre Rogelio (Ediciones Sistema Radio Venceremos, 1987)
- La matanza de los pobres: Vida en medio de la muerte en El Salvador, co-authored with Jon Sobrino, SJ (Ediciones HOAC, 1993)
- Primero Dios: Siete anos de esperanza : relatos de carta a las iglesias (UCA Editores, 1988)
- Cuba: Neither Heaven Nor Hell (EPICA, 2000)
- Camilo camina en Colombia (Editorial Nuestro Tiempo, 1989)
- La historia de una Rosa (Red De Mujeres Contra La Violencia, 2003). This true story of an 8-year old Nicaraguan girl living in Costa Rica who was raped and impregnated by a neighbor and her parents' fight against Church and state to get her a therapeutic abortion, became the basis of a documentary, Rosita, by filmmakers Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater.
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
- Cómo escribir cuentos para niños, La Prensa, 6/2/2007
- The Coup Is Irreversible, Havana Times, 7/7/2009 -- Lopez Vigil talks about the coup in Honduras
- Otro Dios es posible: Reflexiones desde Nicaragua sobre el cristianismo, el poder y las mujeres, por María López Vigil, Universidad Centroamericana, Nicaragua
- Sin dogmas ni jerarquías: una espiritualidad por la paz y la justicia, Cubaencuentro, 1/31/2011
- María López Vigil: "La primera noche yo sabía que iba a morir", El Pais, 8/30/1981 -- Lopez Vigil talks about her detention and expulsion from El Salvador during that country's civil war
- Incesto: una plaga silenciada de la que hay que hablar, por María López Vigil, Revista Envio, Septiembre 2000