BY CHRIS KERR | February 22, 2016
The following is a personal testimony offered by Fr. Fernando Cardenal, S.J., in September 2010. Fr. Cardenal died on February 20, 2016. Translation provided by Mark Lester, Regional Co-Director of Central America for the Center for Global Education, Augsburg College. [en español]
Why do I hope to go to Paradise after my death?Soon I will celebrate my 77th birthday, and even though I am not retired and continue working, it is natural at my age to think, simply and without any drama, that death could be close. At any moment. A massive heart attack, a sudden rise in blood pressure (I do have hypertension), a car accident could take me to my death without being able to communicate with my family, my fellow Jesuits and my friends. That is why it occurred to me to write down now the reflections that I would like to be communicated at the hour of my death. This I do now. First, I will make some religious reflections, then some about the current situation of Nicaragua, and I end leaving two tasks for my Jesuit Superiors and family. Everything that I tell you comes from the very depths of my heart.
I have no type of material goods, but I do want to leave my reflections to you, my family and friends.
I hope that I will be saved and go to Paradise with God for various reasons, but primarily convincing ones.
Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized, will be saved.” (Matt 16:16). I was baptized just days after birth and since my childhood have maintained my faith in God and in his emissary, Jesus. Christ. A faith that has been strengthened and matured in my years of religious life as a Jesuit. The Evangelist St. John told us in his first letter, Chapter 4, verse 15: “If anyone recognizes that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in them, and they in God.” I express this faith every day when in my prayer I say to Jesus with faith and love, like the Apostle Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” I trust in His promise.
Regarding the Eucharist, a number of paragraphs appear from Jesus in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of St John. We find this phrase there: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life. And I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:54). For 58 years I have been participating in or celebrating the Eucharist every day of my life. Daily mass continuously for all these years. This gives me great hope. I trust in His promise.
In Chapter 25 of the Gospel of St Matthew, from verse 31 on, Jesus describes the final Judgement. He said, “Then the King will say, Come you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was homeless and you received me into your home, I was naked and you clothed me,” etc. Later on in the Gospel it says that these people will ask the Lord, “When was this?” and the Gospel says that he will say to them, “Truly I say to you that when you did it to any of the least of these, you did it to me.” It is important to understand that Jesus does not say that He will take what I do for these poor people as having been done to Him. He does not say that. He says “YOU DID IT TO ME.” He fully identifies himself with the poor. He is very clear. In this context I tell you that in 1970, after living nine months with people in extreme poverty in a marginalized neighborhood in the city of Medellín, while saying goodbye to my neighbors, who I had come to love very much, in those nine months of living with them I had become very fond of them, and that love made me feel all those months the tremendous pain from their extreme poverty; I saw them as submerged in a sea of permanent suffering, without hope, so in saying goodbye to them I made them a solemn oath. I told them, “that I would dedicate what life I had left to the liberation of the poor, to the struggle for justice, out of love for them, inspired by them.” In this year 2010 I have been fulfilling that promise for 40 years: I have continued to fulfill it every day since.
First of all, I currently fulfill my oath with my work in Fe y Alegría, providing quality education to our students to free them from poverty through a quality education that would open a decent future for them, a decent life and one worthy of human beings and children of God. We work with the poorest in the country, or at least with very poor people. We are “where the pavement ends, where the city loses it name.” That is working for the liberation of the poor.
But in addition every day I support 20 extremely poor families with whom I formed friendships 13 years ago when I lived in the Edgar Munguia neighborhood, very close to the Central American University (UCA). I lived there for three years. Now I live in the Jesuit Community in the UCA. My friends come in by foot every day. From the charity I receive, I give them money for food and medicines, and above all, loans so they can have small businesses selling different things in their homes and on the street. That is why I hope, supported by Chapter 25 of Matthew, that on the last day the Lord will say to me, “Come on in, Fernando, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was illiterate and you taught me to read”, etc… I trust in His promise.
But there is another reality: I am a sinner, I recognize my sins and weaknesses. It is also true that never, by the Grace of God in me, have I committed a crime either publicly or privately. Because God has been strong in me. But I recognize that many times I have not lived up to what St. Ignatius of Loyola expects of us Jesuits. In spite of my sins, I continue expecting to go to Paradise. In Chapter 15 of the Gospel of St Luke, some Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus, and were scandalized that He ate with sinners. So Jesus told them three parables: the one about the lost sheep, the one about the lost coin, and the one about the lost son (known as the Prodigal Son). These made it clear that Jesus sees sinners as “lost”, not as perverse, dirty, bad people, but as “something very loved that was lost.” And that is why they are sought after, wanted, awaited, hugged and have a party thrown when they are recovered, and they are not censured, nothing is held against them. And there are other scenes in the real life of Jesus, not just parables, where he always forgives and, in many cases, even before the sinner expressly asks for pardon, like the public sinner on the stretcher who they lower through the roof of the house, and many others. I expect that this Jesus forgives my sins also. Every day in my prayer I ask the forgiveness of the Lord for my sins. I trust in His mercy.
When the hour comes for me to leave this life, I will go happily and very gratefully to God for the life that I have lived. Grateful to my family, my fellow Jesuits and, above all, for the happiness that my marvelous friends and brothers and sisters have given me who I consider to be a true gift from God. As I look back at what my life has been: joy and gratefulness.
But I will also leave with great sadnesses:
Sadness that still close to half of the population of Nicaragua lives in poverty. We continue to be the poorest country of the Latin American continent. But in addition, as long as so little money gets invested in national education, we will never get out of this poverty. Let´s not stupidly fool ourselves, nor fool our people. Many countries have begun to invest seriously in education since the end of the nineteenth century, including Costa Rica, and we in Nicaragua in the twenty-first century have not yet begun to seriously invest in education. No country of the world has come out of poverty without first seriously investing in education. This is what the international organizations say. Worse yet, at the end of last week (today is Monday, September 20, 2010) the Army sent a reform of the National Budget to the National Assembly to be “urgently passed” and in it they take more than 54 million cordobas from the Ministry of Education. What a shame! Instead of moving forward, we are going backwards.
I heard the previous Minister of Education, Miguel de Castilla, say that in Nicaragua there were half a million children outside of the educational system, and a half million more with access only to low quality types of education. In other words, there are a million children with a very uncertain future. That is a lot for a country that has a population of just over five million. This is a time bomb that is going to explode, without question. For many of these young people it could be that they are left with no other alternative to survive than falling into crime. All of us should be interested in Nicaragua seriously investing in education, especially the State, which is mainly responsible for education in the country. If a government has no interest in respecting every child´s inalienable rights to a quality education, it should at least do it out of fear for its own safety. Let us see ourselves in the mirror of the “gangs” in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. We, the different organizations that are working on education in Nicaragua, state that right now the goal is for 7% of the gross domestic product in the country be invested in education, not including higher education. Currently only 3.8% is being invested. Economists tell us that 7% is possible, it only requires a political decision.
It also saddens me to see the deep and extensive corruption in the political life of the country. And it saddens me that some high level leaders of the Sandinista Front of National Liberation are participating in that corruption, with which they frustrate the hopes that the people had placed in them to obtain their liberation. The lack of respect and repeated violations of the Constitution of the Republic profoundly sadden me, as does the lack of respect for the institutionality of the country.
Sadness over so much domestic violence against women, and horrendous criminal rapes of girls and boys.
The ongoing extermination of our forests also saddens me. They are killing our environment and putting the future lives of our people in danger.
I have more reasons for sadness, but I believe that this is not the place to make a more complete and profound listing of them.
In spite of all these sadnesses, I am a man of hope. The last chapter of my memoirs, published two years ago, is called: HOPE. For me the basis for this is that I profoundly believe in the youth. We worked together in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship from the Christian Revolutionary Movement. There I was a direct witness of their sacrifice, the mystique, their courage in the face of the danger of being murdered (14 lost their lives). Then I was also a direct witness of the wonders of valor and commitment, in some cases even heroism, of the 60,000 young volunteers that went into the mountains in the National Literacy Crusade. And afterwards I worked for five years with the Sandinista Youth, the youth of the revolution. In those three places I found that the youth have great interior fortitude, and an ability to give of themselves without limits to work on all the tasks that benefit the people. It´s not just that I heard stories about them. I was with them, men and women. They are my hope. The only thing needed is that society offer them a great, noble, beautiful cause; if it be difficult, all the better, and that those leading it are people with moral authority. “I HOPE THAT THE YOUTH TAKE TO THE STREETS AGAIN TO MAKE HISTORY”.
Finally, I want to leave two recommendations to my Superiors of the Society of Jesus and to my family members:
- a) If by chance I am kidnapped, I ask you now to do not give a cent for the rescue of my life. That you use that money for important works to extend the Reign of God.
- b) If I end up dealing with an illness in which the condition of my life is inhuman and irreversible, I ask you now to disconnect me from the tubes and machines and let me die in peace.
Fernando Cardenal, S.J.
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.