Archive for the ‘church’ Category

Where Irreligious Trends Lead After Decades

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JAN. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- To see how disturbing a secularist and increasingly irreligious society can become, one need only look to Sweden.

Abortion has been free on demand and available without parental consent in the country since 1975, resulting in the Nordic nation having the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe (22.5 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in 2009).

Swedish law does not in any way recognize the right to conscientious objection for health care workers (last year, the Swedish parliament overwhelmingly passed an order instructing Swedish politicians to fight against the rights of doctors to refuse to participate in abortion).

Meanwhile, sex education is graphic and compulsory, beginning at the age of six, and children from kindergarten age are taught cross-dressing and that whatever feels good sexually is OK. The age of consent is 15.

“We have so many violations of human dignity on so many levels, and so many problems when it comes to social engineering,” explained Johan Lundell, secretary-general of the Swedish pro-life group Ja till Livet. “This has been going on for the past 70 years.”

Lundell was a guest of ours recently at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (Institute for Human Dignity) where he laid out a catalogue of offenses against human dignity in Swedish society. “We have the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe. Why? Because we say abortion is a human right, it doesn’t kill anything, just takes away a pregnancy,” he said. “And after 20 years of this, young people don’t care any more. Why should they? For 10 to 15 years no one has even said abortion should be legal but rare.”

Its sex education program, seen by some social liberals as groundbreaking but others as far too explicit, has been given by some as the principal reason for a low teenage pregnancy rate. But the high number of abortions among that age group are rarely discussed, nor are the figures disclosed. “No one talks about child abortions,” said Lundell. “They’re ashamed of them. Yet we’re the only country in Europe where there’s abortion on demand, there are no formal procedures, no parental consent, no informed consent.”

Nor are the number of rapes in Sweden widely known or advertised. Yet according to Lundell, over the past 50 years — during this era of loose sexual mores — they have risen by “1,000 percent.”

Lundell further noted that all other countries want to reduce the number of abortions, yet despite having 550 different government departments in Sweden, none has a mission to lower the number of terminations. “Children can see this is wrong, parents can see it’s wrong, and as a society we don’t want it and yet no one talks about it,” Lundell added. “It’s absurd.”

He said that Sweden should “definitely” be taken as a warning to other countries pursuing secularist, socially liberal policies “because then you can see what the agenda is for people, and how the European Union and the United Nations are copying these Scandinavian ideas.”

Returning to the subject of sex education, Lundell said Swedes generally don’t bother any more trying to argue that homosexuality is genetic– a common argument used to promote the same-sex agenda — because the movement is now so fully accepted that it no longer needs this argument as a support. “In sex education books, they don’t talk about someone being heterosexual or homosexual — there are no such things because for them everyone is homosexual,” he said.

Lundell referred to a brochure for children published by same-sex associations, and printed with the help of financing by the state. “They write positively about all kinds of sexuality, every kind, even the most depraved sexual acts, and it goes into all schools,” he explained. “The information is put on Web sites, and school children are told about the Web sites so they can see it.” Teachers, he said, are encouraged to ask students “What turns you on?” yet Lundell pointed out that if the chief executive of a company asked that at a business meeting, he’d be fired. “It would be sexual harassment,” he said. “And yet you train people to do this to children?”

Some parents have made formal complaints, branding it as carnal knowledge, too candid for the classroom and labeling the lessons as “vulgar” and “too advanced.” But the majority acquiesce to the curriculum, while the option to homeschool children is almost forbidden.

Yet to many outsiders, Sweden’s popular image is of a fair, ordered, just and harmonious society — the model example of a functioning welfare state. In many cases this is true if one looks at infant mortality rates, life expectancy, standard of health care and access to education. The level of poverty is also relatively low.

“It’s long been said that if it is not possible to bring about a socialist world in Sweden, then it’s not possible anywhere,” said Lundell. “That’s why some have tried to make it into a socialist paradise. But unlike in, say, Italy or Greece, in Sweden it’s not about the socialism of finances but rather the socialism of families — social engineering, which has been much more visible here than in southern Europe.”

Per Bylund, a Swedish fellow at the Von Mises Institute, once described the all encompassing power of the state thus: “A significant difference between my generation and the preceding one is that most of us were not raised by our parents at all. We were raised by the authorities in state daycare centers from the time of infancy; then pushed on to public schools, public high schools, and public universities; and later to employment in the public sector and more education via the powerful labor unions and their educational associations. The state is ever-present and is to many the only means of survival — and its welfare benefits the only possible way to gain independence.”

Yet this social engineering has had dire consequences. Few European countries have witnessed such a rapid decline in the institution of marriage, nor such an expeditious rise in abortion. During the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, the marriage rate in Sweden was historically at its peak. Suddenly, the rate started dropping so quickly that it saw a decrease of about 50% in less than 10 years. No other country experienced such a rapid change.

Between 2000 and 2010, when the rest of Europe was showing signs of a reduction in annual abortion rates, the Swedish government says the rate increased from 30,980 to 37,693. The proportion of repeat abortions rose from 38.1% to 40.4% — the highest level ever — while the number of women having at least four previous abortions increased from 521 to approximately 750.

With the exception of a few stalwart campaigners such as Lundell, most Swedish Christians — and particularly Christian politicians — remain silent in the face of the countless social violations against human dignity. Little resistance is also given to attacks on religious freedom for Christians, with priority increasingly being given to Sharia law.

Judging by the figures, it could almost be said the faith has packed up altogether. At the end of 2009, 71.3% of Swedes belonged to the Lutheran Church of Sweden — a number that has been decreasing by about one percentage point a year for the last two decades. Of them, only around 2% regularly attend Sunday services. Indeed, some studies have found Swedes to be one of the least religious people in the world and a country with one of the highest numbers of atheists. According to different studies carried out in the early 2000s, between 46% and 85% of Swedes do not believe in God.

Lundell said that although small, the Catholic Church has a good bishop and is helped by immigrants from Poland and Latin America. But Catholics are generally seen as outsiders with little influence and they are wary of overtly campaigning or being seen as “too tough,” he said. Even Pentecostals are reticent to raise objections. “They are probably the only Pentecostal church in the world that doesn’t,” he added.

But despite all this, Lundell, whose organization is attracting a growing number of young people, remains hopeful — and he remains ultimately loyal to his home country. “I’m so proud of Sweden I can’t imagine moving away,” he said. “But I am ashamed of the politics when it comes to the family, sexual politics and restrictions on freedom of religion.”

“Whole parts of society aren’t Sweden any more,” he added. “So we will fight, and we will do so with more eagerness than ever.”

Edward Pentin is a freelance journalist and Communications Director at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. He can be reached at epentin@zenit.org.

Bishop of Solwezi on Priorities for His Church

ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The 41-year-old bishop of Solwezi in Zambia is entrusted with a diocese stretching some 34,000 square miles (88,300 square kilometers). Scattered over the territory are about 80,000 Catholics. In this rural, poor setting, Bishop Charles Kasonde says his priority is evangelization.

Marie Pauline Meyer of Where God Weeps for Aid to the Church in Need spoke with the bishop, who is the fourth prelate to be charged with the task of overseeing Solwezi since it was declared a diocese in 1976.

Q: You have recently been appointed bishop (March 23, 2010). It this new task difficult?

Bishop Kasonde: Yes and no. It is difficult in knowing that it is a task that I have to perform and it requires a lot of experience. And it is measured by a lot of experience, of which I don’t have a lot. Once you are ordained a priest you remain open to the prompting of the Spirit in your life and also what the Church wants you to do. So we as priests, we have the missionary spirit ready to be sent anywhere and to be given any task; for us it is not a promotion, it is an appointment and we graciously say “yes” to that and we move on. So with that I rely on the grace of God to help me to carry out my activities with the support of the Christians, my brother priests, deacons, bishops and all the fraternity within the Church.

Q: What do you see as your most urgent project at the moment?

Bishop Kasonde: I think this is reflected through my motto, which is “Evangelization of the people of God.” Therefore I’m drawn much more to start projects that concern evangelization of the people, disclosing the love of Christ to the people; let the people encounter Christ. I’m not going to a new diocese; I’m going to a diocese that was founded in 1976. I’m going to a people who have already come into contact with Christ. I’m going there to add to what the people already know. I’m also going to a diocese that is largely rural and quite poor. So infrastructure will be needed. Many churches have been built out of mud and we need concrete churches that stand the test of time. So this is one more reason why I need also to go in that area, so that the people of God can worship the Lord in a house that is beautiful — and they are looking forward to going back to “their home,” the home of God. This is also my preoccupation.

Q: I’ve heard that there are many sects coming to Zambia. Is this something you have encountered?

Bishop Kasonde: My diocese is peculiar in a sense that out of the 10 dioceses it is the only diocese, by and large, which was occupied by the Protestants. Here our brothers and sisters shared greatly in proclaiming the Word of God. Catholicism is a little bit foreign, but slowly it is sinking in and people are getting to know about it and already we have our churches built, though some are very bad structures. Almost in the entire Northwestern province, which covers my canonical area, the population for the province is about 900,000 and the Catholic presence is just about 90,000 — 10% of the entire population. In other places the Catholic population goes, to some extent, even about 70% to 80%, so I have a long way to go.

Q: You say that your diocese is mostly rural and very poor. Are the poor attracted to other churches because they are given food and other needs of daily life?

Bishop Kasonde: Yes. The poor do it not intentionally but because they lack the very basic necessities. When you talk about poverty, it is overwhelming.

Q: Can you describe the poverty?

Bishop Kasonde: Poverty is making less than a dollar a day. They make 50 cents a day — that is all. Some even don’t make that much. So our people struggle a lot and they depend on farm produce. They also depend on the rain because we do not have irrigation systems; only a privileged few have this but the majority depends on the rain. Without the rain there is drought, which means they are unable to purchase their daily needs for their homes as well as tuition money for their children’s school fees. It is a very bad situation but by the grace of God we are surviving and we are happy even in the midst of that poverty.

Q: What do your people expect of you? 

Bishop Kasonde: They expect me to bring Christ to them; to be one who identifies and lives with them and one who brings them the Good News of the Risen Lord. You look at the people: They are very poor, yet very happy. We share the Word of God together. We pray together. We break bread together through the Eucharistic meal and that is what they want.

Q: When one consults the Internet about Zambia, most often the information one reads is about AIDS and poverty-related problems. Is this how you see it as well?

Bishop Kasonde: I see that but this is not all that is Zambia. Zambia is a peaceful and beautiful country. The media perhaps wants to portray Zambia as such but Zambia is not just poverty, AIDS or corruption. Of course we have these problems but when you walk around you see Zambians who are wealthy, Zambians who are poor. They are cheerful and well versed in what they do. Zambians are moderate and so it is a great mixture.

Q: Yet AIDS is a problem? 

Bishop Kasonde: AIDS is certainly a big problem in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa and Zambia is part of this region. There is no cure so when one is infected, it spreads. We have seen especially the middle-aged people, the bread winners, the family providers dying from AIDS and the retired, the old, and the feeble — the grandmothers and grandfathers — taking over the role of parenthood again for their orphaned grandchildren, because their children are dying or are dead.

Q: Do you have a solution?

Bishop Kasonde: I think one of the solutions could be investing in education. There was a time when the Catholic Church provided education facilities and then the government took over and “Zambianized” everything, which was a good thing but they became overwhelmed and they couldn’t provide the quality service in education. Now they want to dump this back on the Church, now that the schools are not in good condition and are dilapidated. So the Church is a little bit hesitant but we know that education is a priority. If we want to help our people it is through education because an educated person will suffer less than an illiterate one. Education is the key and empowerment especially for the generation that is growing up; if those are educated they will go and find their own means of sustenance and survival. So this is one area I want to look at — to get back the schools. If we have the money and we invest in them, we could renovate them and attract the teachers who could educate our children.

Q: What is the hope for your country?

Bishop Kasonde: Zambia is very rich in minerals and natural resources. All we need is a leader who is able to interpret the signs of the times; a leader who is able to die a little for his people, a leader who is sincere and honest. We can’t be as poor as we are because everywhere you go you find minerals and we live in a rainy belt. Every season we have the rain, which is why people have not even invested in irrigation because we have enough rain for a season in which to grow crops. The poverty in Zambia is exaggerated. All Zambia needs is a leadership that could command respect and put things in order and we’ll be home and dry.

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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

A Tribute to L’Osservatore Romano

By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, JAN. 18, 2012 (Zenit.org).- It should be called “the friend of truth.” It opposed Nazism and Communism. In defense of the Pope and of the poor, it has challenged dictators worldwide. Its motto affirms “Non praevalebunt.” Pope Paul VI pointed it out as “a light nourished by the See of Peter,” it has just celebrated its 150th anniversary, and Benedict XVI speaks of its “long and great history.”

We are talking about L’Osservatore Romano, commonly known in Rome as “the Pope’s newspaper.” Born in difficult times in 1861, when it seemed that the Holy See would be swept away, it has grown enormously and today comes out with editions in eight languages among which is also the Malaysian version published in India.

In Brazil there is a street dedicated to L’Osservatore Romano in the Carlos Lourenco Garden of Campinas.

The paper was founded by lawyer Nicola Zanchini together with journalist Giuseppe Bastia after Pope Pius IX gave his blessing to the publication.

Written in the founding constitution is that the objective of L’Osservatore Romano is to “unmask and confute the calumnies hurled against the Roman Pontificate,” to “recall the principles of the Catholic religion and those of justice and law as the basis of ordinary civil living” and to “stimulate and promote the veneration of the Sovereign Pontiff.”

In connection with the nascent Italian nation and the sciences, L’Osservatore Romano proposed “to instruct on the duties owed to the homeland” and to “bring together and illustrate all that through art, literature and sciences merits being pointed out to the public, especially the inventions and related applications.”

In the course of its glorious history, L’Osservatore Romano has distinguished itself for opposing every form of totalitarianism and for defending the liberty and dignity of the person.

Speaking of the 30s, when Italy was under the Fascist dictatorship, Francis Charles Roux, ambassador of France to the Holy see, writes in his memoirs that L’Osservatore Romano is “the only newspaper in Italy that does not obey the governmental dispositions and those of the Fascist party.”

“Its independence in confrontations with the government, made its circulation grow to a number that was very different from the usual,” added the French diplomat. In that period the Pope’s newspaper sold close to 60,000 copies, reaching even to 100,000, an enormous number at that time.

The diffusion of L’Osservatore Romano infuriated the Fascist militia, to the point that some customers were mistreated, entire packets of the newspaper were confiscated and burnt.

In this connection, in the Constituent Assembly of March 20, 1947, the well-known Italian journalist, jurist, writer and politician Piero Calamandrei said: “In the years of the greatest oppression, we must remember that the only newspaper in which one could still find some reference to liberty, to our liberty, to the liberty common to all free men was L’Osservatore Romano.

“And when the racial persecutions began, the Church lined up against the persecutors and in defense of the oppressed; because when the Germans sought our sons to torture and shoot them, they, no matter what their party, found refuge in the rectories and convents; because priests were found who were prepared to offer themselves as hostages to save the population of a municipality and to rescue the life of all with their sacrifice.”

Among the thousands of acts of heroism carried out by Catholics, emerges that of the director of L’Osservatore Romano, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, who, to follow the indications of the Servant of God Pius XII, on Oct. 29, 1943, took care of and sent the Jew Giovanni Astrologo with his father and four aunts to the Lombard Seminary of Rome.

They were persecuted and sought by the Nazis. Dalla Torre entrusted them to Monsignor Francesco Bertoglio, rector of the seminary, who on June 29, 2010 was recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations.”

On Sept. 24, 1936, intervening in the second international congress of Catholic journalists, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli said that L’Osservatore Romano “for fifteen lustrums was the austere herald of the voice and sentences of Peter and the champion of his most sacred rights.”

And when Pacelli became Pope Pius XII he described it as “faithful and dear.”

According to Blessed Pope John XXIII, L’Osservatore Romano is “the daily herald, the instrument, the surest voice by which the Pope’s thought is ordinarily transmitted and guaranteed of its authenticity, from Rome to the extreme ends of the world.”

In the introduction of the pamphlet marking the paper’s 150th anniversary, Benedict XVI explained that L’Osservatore Romano knows how to express “the cordial friendship of the Holy See for humanity in our time, in defense of the human person created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Christ.”

NICARAGUA: A CHURCH IN THE SWAMP (PART 2)

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop David Zywiec of Bluefields

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, MARCH 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- It is easy to become isolated in the problems of one’s own nation, but a bishop working with the poor in Nicaragua says it is important to remember that we live in a global community and form part of the universal Church.

Capuchin Bishop David Zywiec is the auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, which serves almost all of the eastern half of Nicaragua, including what is known as the Mosquito Coast.

The 62-year-old prelate is a native of East Chicago, Indiana, and he recently spoke of the life of the Church in Nicaragua with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

Part 1 of the transcription of the interview appeared last Sunday.

Q: You learned the Miskito language — how long did it take you?

Bishop Zywiec: I’m still learning it! They say to learn a language it takes about 1,000 hours. One of the difficulties I find is that you almost have to be immersed in it or speaking the language all the time. And one of the things I find difficult here is that I’m in the Miskito area for a while and in the Spanish area for a while.

Q: You are one of the few missionaries who actually speaks the language.

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, and the thing is, we are blessed in the vicariate because we’ve got five Miskito priests, and then there are some young Miskito men in the seminary. So I think that this is God blessing us in a way to build a native church.

Q: What would be your appeal? What would be your call now for your work, for the diocese, for the vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: One thing of course would be prayer because we are called to pray. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries of Latin America. We’ve been through civil wars, and hurricanes, and so prayer is important. A lot of times, I feel that I read a newspaper in Nicaragua and they just talk about Nicaragua …you go to the States, they just talk about the States. We are part of a global community now; we are part of the Catholic Church. So, I believe that this is an important thing too. And also we’ve had, you might say, partnerships with different parishes and I believe that this is an important way of not just saying: “OK we’ll pray for Nicaragua”; and also not to say … I know this person there, or this family there, so that it isn’t just helping a certain person or a certain anonymous area, but this particular person, this particular family with their needs. I believe, that makes one … it kind of hits you in the heart … and I think this is a way of living the brotherhood and sisterhood that God calls us … that Jesus calls us to live, as followers of Jesus.

Q: We’re talking about a really rural area where you are: swamps, lots of swamp areas, mountains. How would you characterize the social development of the people? Are they still very traditional in their practices or are they becoming more modernized, so to speak. How would you characterize that?

Bishop Zywiec: I’d say a lot of things have changed in the rural area. When I first worked there, I was working with the Spanish-speaking settlers — Spanish-speaking farmers — and you know older missionaries said that, when they’d have a mission, the priest would come like every year, every six months, there were some women who wouldn’t understand when another man talked to them because they lived so isolated and the only man’s voice that the woman would hear was the husband’s voice. And now in some of the same areas you don’t just have radios, you know, battery powered radios, but with solar panels you now have television. And so things have changed there … slowly, not all of a sudden … not over night… but one of the things I noticed too is when I came there 30 years ago the children as a sign of respect would fold their hands and say “Santito,” [holy one] and now they don’t do that and this is something that you might say is just a little sign of how things have changed a little bit.

But then on the other side there have been some good changes. I find, for example, people are very gifted as far as making up songs. When I first came there, if we came to a chapel and there was a man there who played the guitar this was really great! Now there are chapels were they will have a guitar, and a guitaro — and a little guitar — an accordion and a trumpet, or maybe even a keyboard; so things have changed … you know, a mixture of good and bad, but I think, these things here give more life to our celebrations in the rural area.

Q: You mentioned earlier some of the social challenges — particularly schools. You’ve been working very hard for the development of a grade school system for young rural children that wouldn’t otherwise have access to education. Why did you see this as a priority?

Bishop Zywiec: If you’re going to live in the world today, you need to know how to read and write. And another thing that we find is that, lots of times, there is migration, from the country to the towns. For example, one of our seminarians comes from a rural family — he is one of 16 children. Now most likely a lot of them will move to towns and then if you do not know how to read and write, what are you going to do? You are just going to have menial jobs, or else you might be tempted to rob. So at least, if a person has the capacity to read and write, that person can get a job more easily and make a living in an honest and dignified way.

Q: What other priorities, what other projects would you see as very important now for this vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: I believe that this whole business about education, because there has been too much history of non-involvement by the government in this area — so it goes way back, 40, 50 years — that the Church has had to get involved in education. Right now there is a school system of over 400 schools with over 20,000 children in grade school. I believe another step is to get involved in a type of high school, but technical high schools so that people are able to work in agriculture…

Q: To have skills, vocational training …?

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, vocational training. … Another challenge in the whole line of human promotion is health, because there are so few doctors. Doctors want to stay in the cities. They do not want to go out in the country, and so we have, lots of times, small health clinics … that’s a challenge too. As I mentioned, our whole work for evangelization — that’s an important priority, and our lay leaders, that that they are ever better trained so that as people become more educated, that our lay leaders are able to give quality leadership and be able to explain the faith with more capacity, and I believe too, one of the things that we have to do is to work for the common good, the sense of community.

I think, lots of times, people get into certain situations in politics or business or even in the Church, where they think: “Well, I have this particular job and let’s see what I can get out of it for myself,” rather than say, “I’m here as a public servant, as a servant of God.” As Jesus said: “I came not to be served but to serve.” This whole spirit of service is one of the big challenges that we have. You might say, to have a mentality of service … a service attitude like that of Jesus, is part of evangelization. I think that is an important challenge that we have in Latin America and in the Bluefields Vicariate.

Perhaps, one other thing too, as you mentioned, with the Miskito area, is the whole inculturation of the faith, being able to express the faith we have in Miskito. For example, now we have a Miskito Bible, we have a song book, and to be able to help the Miskito to express their faith, their feelings, their love of God in their own way and that this becomes part of their Church structure — in the rural areas too — with the music and so forth, becomes part of their way of expressing their faith and their love of God.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Nicaragua is a country that has been ravaged by civil war, dictatorships and natural disasters. Today it is one of the poorest countries in the Western world.

Capuchin  is the auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, which serves almost all of the eastern half of the country, including what is known as the Mosquito Coast.

The 62-year-old prelate is a native of East Chicago, Indiana, and he recently spoke of the life of the Church in Nicaragua with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

The transcription of the interview will appear in two parts. Part 2 will appear Monday.

Q: Bishop can you tell us, how did a Polish-American ended up in Bluefields, Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: My grandparents were the ones who came over from Poland about 100 years ago. I was interested in becoming a priest and I was attracted to the Capuchins. They seem to be a very happy group.

I went to the seminary and I heard stories about the missions in Nicaragua, and so I volunteered. My superiors responded, “We need you there.” I was ordained in June 1974, and in January 1975 I was in Nicaragua.

Q: What was your first impression when you arrived?

Bishop Zywiec: When I arrived I was a little surprised. I came with a classmate of mine. We came driving down in a jeep that was a donation. We were bringing it down to Nicaragua and I thought we’d get a kind of heroes’ welcome.

But the thing is, about a week before we came there was a kidnapping and the president imposed Marshall Law and a curfew in the country. We didn’t know that. So, we arrived at about 9 p.m. We are crossing the border right before it closed.

The other Capuchins said: “What! You’re coming in at this time? Don’t you know that there is curfew? Some half-crazy soldier could have shot you and left you for dead on the side of the road.”

So it was a realization of the violent reality there, and that was our first impression.

Q: Have you ever been threatened or felt threatened at all during your time in Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: Well, one time when I was working in the jungle. When I first arrived they sent “the older missionaries to the towns, the younger ones to the jungle.”

That was also at the time the Sandinistas, the organization rebelling against the government; they were hiding there [in the jungle], and I heard there were bombings over there and I was kind of afraid.

I said to myself, “My mom and dad are paying taxes to help the U.S. government, and the U.S. government is helping the Nicaraguan government, and they are dropping bombs on this area here, against the guerrillas.”

Well I never saw any of these bombs, but it made me a little afraid. But God is good, and I am here right now.

Q: What was the most difficult thing that you had to overcome or adapt to in your new life in Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: I arrived in 1975, and this was right after the Second Vatican Council. When I went through the seminary — studying theology — I felt pretty good, you know, because we had new theology, something about pastoral counseling. I felt I was up-to-date compared to these old missionaries.

But then the government army came and took some of the people prisoners and tortured them. Some “disappeared,” or we found out later they were killed. Over a two-year period of time we found that there were 300 people who were missing because of the government.

What do you do in situation like that? We never even had training for that!

Q: You never dreamt to you would confront this.

Bishop Zywiec: No, we never talked about this in theology class! We talked about pastoral counseling, and youth apostolates and so forth, and this was a crisis. The only thing I was able to do is just take the information and pass it to the bishop — Bishop Schlaefer — and I felt very supported by him.

Q: In the Bluefields Vicariate there is what is called the “Mosquito Coast.” Where did this name come from?

Bishop Zywiec: The Eastern part of Nicaragua, which is in the Bluefields’ Vicariate, was never conquered by the Spanish, and so the Miskito Indians who lived there were autonomous.

And they also were able to, you might say, have an empire that went all the way from the Caribbean Coast of Panama through Costa Rica along Nicaragua into Honduras. So they were powerful back then, in the 1700s.

Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is an area of 22,825 Square Miles. It’s enormous! What does a typical pastoral visit look like for you in your travels to the villagers — in seeking out your parishioners?

Bishop Zywiec: Usually what I tell the people is that I like four things: I like time to hear confessions. Then I celebrate Mass and then a confirmation or some other sacrament is requested, such as a baptism or a marriage.

And then I like to have a meeting with the church board: It gives me more of a chance for dialogue.

Then I say: “I’d like something to eat.” Generally, you know, when the bishop comes — since there is no electricity — lots of times they’ll kill a cow or a pig because there is no refrigeration. So there is food for everybody, and everybody eats!

Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is almost half of all of Nicaragua. You are 25 priests. Are you not a bit overwhelmed?

Bishop Zywiec: Yes, that’s a problem. We have roughly 1,000 chapels and 14 parishes. A small parish would have one priest with about 30 chapels to take care of. There is a priest from north of Milwaukee; he is in his late 70s and he visits over 100 chapels.

Every Sunday in the chapels, we’ll have a celebration of the Word, so those who lead these celebrations are called “Delegates of the Word.” Usually we’ll have two of them in each chapel so in case one gets sick or one can’t make it, we always have a back up.

Then we have a catechist for baptism, a catechist for first Communion and confession, catechist for confirmation, and catechist for marriage.

We have training courses usually once a year for these different catechists. Some parishes will have courses for musicians. And then there are movements — we call them retreat movements — and it’s a way of helping the faith grow, you know, preparing leaders. So we depend a lot on the laity.

Q: How many missionaries are you? You mentioned that you have a number of missionaries that are getting older. Where is the new generation of priests coming from? Are there vocations coming from Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: The priests that we can count on would be the priests who come from the Vicariate of Bluefields; there are missionaries and there are people who help, but our native diocesan priest are the ones we are able to count on more, and we find that a lot of our vocations come from families that are leaders in the community.

For example, where there is a married deacon, or a Delegate of the Word, there is this Christian commitment and that’s fertile ground for vocations, not just to the priesthood but also to the religious life. For example, in one town of about 10,000, in the past 20 years, 15 girls have gone to the convent. I think that’s a beautiful thing to see something like that.

Q: What expressions of popular faith or devotions are there in the vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: We have lots of processions. In my experience in the United States processions are usually held inside, but in Nicaragua it’s a warmer climate and the people are use to having processions outside, such as during Holy Week.

For Holy Week in some of the towns they have processions for the Way of the Cross, and for the Easter Vigil there is the blessing of the Pascal candle outside and then the procession into the church.

For our patronal feasts as well we have a procession with the statue of the patron saint going through town, singing songs, praying the rosary. This is a normal, normal part of church life. We just pray it doesn’t rain too much.

Q: Other than the size of the territory, what would you say is the greatest challenge to evangelizing the Miskito people?

Bishop Zywiec: Although the territory is big, it is perhaps not so much a problem of size, but of transportation and communication. I think in that whole area, we have about 100 kilometers (62 miles) of paved road and the rest is gravel road. It rains a lot, and lots of times there are places where you get stuck.

Another thing is that of the 1,000 chapels, 100 are Miskito-speaking; the rest are Spanish-speaking. They are mainly farmers — subsistence farmers — involved in dairy farming or cattle farming.

Perhaps one of our main concerns is that people are not only able to receive the sacraments — to be baptized — but also that they learn their faith and what it means in their daily lives to live a deeper evangelization. I believe too, vocational promotion is an important thing for us so that we have available priests for the future.

And human promotion is an important thing in the form of schools, in the form of our health programs so that people not just hear the Word of God, but are able to live a human life and be able to be involved in the national life, and not be, you might say, forgotten — to be able to participate and participate conscientiously.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.