At the request of Bishop James W. Malone, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), I visited Nicaragua from August 19-22, 1984. The purpose of the visit was to express ecclesial solidarity with the Church in Nicaragua and particularly to manifest the firm determination of the bishops of the United States to stand with the bishops of Nicaragua as they carry out their pastoral ministry in the face of significant pressure and tension.
During the visit I met with members of the episcopal conference of Nicaragua, with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Montezemulo, with Mr. Daniel Ortega, President-elect of Nicaragua, with the U.S. Ambassador of Nicaragua, Ambassador Bergold, with priests, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Managua, and with missionaries from the United States serving in Nicaragua. I have reported the results of my visit in detail to Bishop Malone and the Administrative Committee of the NCCB. During the general meeting of the NCCB in November I reported on my visit and indicated I would be releasing a public statement.
A major reason for the August visit was the expulsion of ten priests by the Government of Nicaragua on July 9, 1984. That action, part of a larger pattern of harassment of the "Church has been denounced by the Holy Father, the bishops of Nicaragua, and Bishop Malone as President of the NCCB. My visit was intended as a clear statement that actions taken against official representatives of the Church in Nicaragua are in abiding concern of the Church in the United States.
A major feature of my visit was the opportunity to meet with some of the members of the Nicaraguan episcopal conference. We discussed the internal political situation in Nicaragua, church-state questions, and the impact of the war and U.S. policy on the Nicaraguan people.
I met with Mr. Daniel Ortega, President-elect of Nicaragua, in a frank and serious exchange; we discussed problems of mutual interest. I particularly raised the expulsion of the ten priests and called for reconsideration of the government's decision. I also raised the issue of visas for foreign church personnel working in Nicaragua. My meeting with Mr. Ortega was cordial, substantive and useful.
I met with North American missionaries serving in Nicaragua. The opportunity to see their dedicated, committed ministry, to express the support of the U.S. bishops for it, and to hear their concerns about the impact of U.S. policy on Nicaragua was an important dimension of the trip for me.
In a series of meetings with clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Managua I received reports on a variety of themes. Their concerns were particularly focused on the educational system and patterns of indoctrination, often using Marxist-oriented materials which they see permeating the educational system.
I also met with labor leaders who specified the way in which the development of free labor unions is obstructed at present in Nicaragua.
A central element of my entire visit was a series of extended meetings with Archbishop Obando of Managua, who had invited the NCCB to send a representative to Nicaragua and who served as my host. The Archbishop's perspective on the role of the Church in Nicaragua, his conviction that the bishops must be vigorous proponents of human rights, and his enumeration of the specific ways in which the bishops are confronted with tactics of harassment on the part of the government or groups associated with it made a deep impression on me. I went to Nicaragua to express episcopal solidarity with the bishops there. I returned convinced that the bishops of the United States must continue to stand with the bishops of Nicaragua even as we also continue to criticize those aspects of U.S. policy which we have found and continue to find counterproductive as a means of protecting human rights in Nicaragua and fostering a climate of justice and peace in Central America.