Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Great Man is Gone - a tribute to Padre Miguel D'Escoto

Padre Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, a priest of the Maryknoll Missionary Society, died on the 8th of June.  With his death, Nicaragua and the world lost a great man.  Let me tell you just a tiny bit about him.

In January of 1973 and as a response to the displacement of thousands from the massive earthquake that hit Nicaragua the previous December, Padre Miguel formed the Nicaraguan Foundation for Integral Community Development (FUNDECI), a nongovernmental agency, which continues working til this day. 

He and this foundation asked us to come work in the Ciudad Sandino area and surrounding rural communities in 1993.  His staff was wonderful for us in our early years getting us established and pointing us in the right directions.  This giant of a man graciously agreed to serve on our Advisory Board in order for us to "use and abuse" his name for funding sources to do our work and help us with Nicaraguan government bureaucracy.

That is how we got to know Padre Miguel personally, while the world knew him as the leader that he was.  After becoming a priest in the Maryknoll Missionary Society, he practiced the principles of Liberation Theology.  Though born a son to a diplomat of the dictator, Anatasio Somoza, he became a non-violent participant in the revolution to overthrow that dictator and he helped set up a new government to serve the poor.

He was the foreign minister of Nicaragua from 1979-1990 in that newly formed government.  In 1983, he was one of five priests that Pope John Paul II chastised in front of international cameras when the pope visited Nicaragua, because they all worked in the government.  John Paul II then suspended them in 1985. 

Not to be able to celebrate mass deeply wounded Padre Miguel. In August 2014, Pope Francis rescinded that order.  Soon thereafter Padre Miguel joyfully celebrated mass once again.

During his time as foreign minister, the United States supported the contra fighters in the Contra War.  Padre Miguel was a voice for human rights and for sovereignty of the government that replaced the dictatorship of the Somoza family.  He was also a strong voice within government encouraging them to live up to their own goals of the revolution. 

As a strong believer in non-violence.  In 1985, he went on a month long fast  marking the 40th Anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing  to call for the U.S. to stop financing and supporting the terrorist activities of the contras ... many around the world fasted with him.  Soon after in February he led a peace march of 300 km into the war zones, many joined him in the 15 day march with bloodied, blistered feet.

In 1986, Padre Miguel was the brainchild behind Nicaragua successfully winning a case against the United States for their illegal mining of one of Nicaragua's harbors in the World Court...the only time anyone has ever won a case against the U.S.

In 2006 after the Sandinista party won again the majority giving them the presidency and the majority in the Assembly, Padre Miguel was appointed as Nicaragua's ambassador to the United Nations and was elected the UN General Assembly President in Sept 2008 - Sept. 2009. 

He said in a press conference:

     "They elected a priest. And I hope no one is offended if I say that love is what is most needed in this world. And that selfishness is what has gotten us into the terrible quagmire in which the world is sinking, almost irreversibly, unless something big happens. This may sound like a sermon. Well, OK..."

Although he was an international figure, he was an easy person to be around.

He was funny and kind.  He believed in what the Nicaraguan Revolution could have become - if it had been given a chance - and boy! could he tell stories.  

One story he told was revolved around a Danny... about what a good reporter Danny had been; about how Danny would come to his house and they would talk way into the night; about how he didn't know what happened to Danny after he became anchor...[Lightbulb!  He's talking about Dan Rather!]...but his reporting just went downhill after that.

His humility and frankness was refreshing in this world.  His love for this world and his desire that the world become healthy and how we needed to love.  He was a huge voice to stop climate change and end poverty.  We, humanity, could use many, many more Padre Miguels and we will surely miss him.

During the Revolution when a hero fell, his or her name was called and everyone repeated three times Presente! (Present [with us])
                        Padre Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann
                         Presente!  Presente!  Presente!