by Marta Leonor González (English translation by Rebel Girl)
On his 87th birthday, the poet Ernesto Cardenal travels to Solentiname to reinaugurate the community he founded. The Misa Campesina was born there 30 years ago.
Ernesto Cardenal has called his friends together to celebrate one more year of life, the reconstruction of the church at Solentiname and the celebration of the Misa Campesina.
The journey is long, 290 kilometers from Managua to San Carlos, and then 30 kilometers by boat across Lake Cocibolca in "El Solentiname" where, in addition to Cardenal, Sergio Ramírez, novelist and winner of the Premio Alfaguara, Vidaluz Meneses, poet and president of the Nicaraguan Writers Center and winner of the Premio Neustadt, and other intellectuals and friends of the poet who worked with him in the 1980s in the Ministry of Culture when he was minister, are sailing too.
There are other guests, those who live abroad (diplomats, rectors and academics) who are coming with admiration to share the priest's 87th birthday and attend the reinauguration of Nuestra Señora de Solentiname Church.
In the other boat, brothers Carlos and Luis Mejía Godoy are coming to sing the Misa Campesina in the place where Carlos's verses were born 30 years ago.
"El Solentiname" is a boat that has been rebuilt three times, says Elvis, the sailor who is taking the guests through the Solentiname archipelago to Mancarrón Island where Cardenal in 1959, four years after being ordained a priest in Managua, bought some property from Julio Centeno, father of Nicaragua's attorney general, lawyer Julio Centeno Gómez, and poet Pablo Centeno Gómez.
On these lands, he founded the Christian -- almost monastic -- community of Solentiname under orders from his mentor and spiritual guide Thomas Merton when he was in the Trappist community, studying for the priesthood at the monastery of Gethsemane in Kentucky.
In this place, the poet wrote the famous book The Gospel in Solentiname, fruit of the community's reflections and where he takes up the ideas of liberation theology which attempts to respond to the situation of Christians in Latin America and which raises the question of how to be a Christian on an oppressed continent.
Cardenal brought these ideas to the peasants on the island. They were related to the preferential option for the poor, to how Christian salvation can't happen without economic, political, social and ideological liberation and the elimination of exploitation, the lack of opportunities and injustice of this world -- they would be his ideas that he would mix with the gospel.
The poet and priest also promoted poetry in the community and his workshops among the peasants, the development of handicrafts in balsa wood and primitivist painting are world famous today.
Out of his work as the community's guide would come The Gospel in Solentiname, of which Cardenal says in the second book that "it isn't surprising that the comments of the peasants are usually more profound than those of many theologians but simple as the Gospel itself. The Gospel or "Good News" (good news to the poor) was written for them, and by people like them."
The guests arrive at the country church with its tiled roof and earthen floor. It's a feast day in the town. The musicians have settled in -- Carlos with his accordeon, Luis with his guitar, Los de Palacagüina with their instruments and among revelry, they begin the ceremony with the entrance hymn:
Vos sos el Dios de los pobres
el Dios humano y sencillo
el Dios que suda en la calle
el Dios de rostro curtido
por eso es que te hablo yo
así como habla mi pueblo
porque sos el Dios obrero
el Cristo trabajador...
You are the God of the poor
the human and simple God
the God who sweats in the street
The God with a tanned face
This is why I speak to you
as my people speak
Because you are God the Worker,
the laboring Christ...
Here is Fernando Cardenal, the Jesuit priest who's the brother of the birthday boy. He takes the floor and talks about the importance of the date. "The Misa Campesina was born here and sung by Carlos 30 years ago, the hymn of the poor but later, the hymn of a people that struggled."
"It's also a symbol of change and of the God who is present in all of us, in the poor, the song of the oppressed that supports liberation theology and for which we have gathered 30 years later."
The introduction is brief and one can see emotion in the faces of the guests. The poet Ernesto presides at the Mass and he reads the first reading, in which the commitment to the poor is reiterated. Then Luz Marina Acosta, his assistant since July 1979, follows with another Biblical reading.
Acosta is the one responsible for staging the Misa Campesina again and gathering the priest's old friends on the day of his birth, January 20th, who sang the mañanitas to him at breakfast.
"This is a special and never to be repeated occasion, singing the Mass again where it was born and where the people know what the poet Cardenal has done," says Acosta, who has been the writer's right hand woman for 33 years.
The Mass ends after Communion and the songs that make it unique. The people embrace each other, while emotion seizes those who remember dreams and lives lost in the Revolution, amid the music: "No hay cosa más linda que mirar a un pueblo reunido... que lucha cuando quiere mejorar porque está decidido..." ["Nothing is more beautiful than to see a people gathered...who fight when they want to get ahead because they are determined..."]
Pbotos: 1) Ernesto Cardenal, assisted by his brother Fernando Cardenal, SJ, celebrate Mass. 2) Carlos and Luis Mejia Godoy, composers of the "Misa Campesina Nicaragüense". Note: If you click on the newspaper website link above for the original article in Spanish, there is also a wonderful video of the occasion.