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The Forbidden Mass


by Yuri Rodríguez


Perhaps you already saw our Save the Date announcement for the concert that our Christ Church Cathedral Concert Series will present, called La Misa Campesina Nicaragüense, featuring our Coro Latinoamericano. Our Coro and guest artists will be presenting this Spanish language Mass Saturday, September 16th, and it promises to be a night of joyful forbidden music, that without a doubt, will uplift your spirits and will involve you in a musical micro cosmos of Nicaraguan music. This concert is part of our celebrations of Hispanic Heritage month and Latin American culture. But why LaMisa Nicaragüense? What does it represent? And what can we learn from it? In order to understand that, we need to talk about LIBERATION THEOLOGY.


To talk about theology in Latin America means to talk about liberation theology. In the light of liberation theology, Latin Americans have been able to rejuvenate and reorient the role of the church and Christianity in the Latino reality. Author Roberto Oliveros Maqueo tells us that  Liberation Theology was born in 1962, as a response to different religious and social events such as the appearance of the Second Vatican Counsel, and wide spread poverty across the land, caused by institutionalized injustice and a lack of regard for the human dignity of the poor.


In the 1970s millions of people in Latin American were experiencing extreme poverty and injustice, and this made the Church start asking a question: who is the poor? And what do we understand as evangelical poverty? After great long debates, the Catholic Church responded with the letters of Puebla, and the Latin American Episcopal Conference in Medellín, which basically stated: “The gospel favors the poor.[…] Poverty is not a state of humanity, but a result of economic, social and political structures, and this situation is not the will of God. Therefore, we see it as a scandal and a contradiction of Christianity to have a growing breach between the rich and the poor.[…] This is contrary to the work of the Creator, and in this situation of pain and sorrow, the Church sees a situation of social sin, aggravated by the fact that is even more evident in countries that are supposed to be catholic”. In this way, Liberation Theology became, not a new theology, but rather a new methodology and much more: a social, religious, artistic movement, which was born of the living reality of our peoples and critically reflected under the light of faith.


Liberation Theology brought new eyes to see the reality in Latin American, which revealed that the face of Christ was to be found in the poor because poverty is the place of privilege for the manifestation of the presence of God. Some of the main topics in the light of Liberation Theology were: the poor, justice, love for our neighbor, peace in a situation of institutional violence, unity in history and political dimension of faith. It was during this time that composer Carlos Mejía Godoy, from Nicaragua, composed his Misa Campesina Nicaragüense. He was motivated by other important political events, such as the death of El Che Gevara, the torture of the poet and guerrilla fighter Leonel Rugama, and the creation of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (the rebellion against the Somoza dictatorship).


It was during these times of great social injustice, that Mejía Godooy, a well-established songwriter, artist and seminarian was commissioned to write a Nicaraguan mass; just as other well-known artists were doing in different Latin American countries already. This was a time of idealistic thinking in Latin America, but also, these were times of general violence and injustice in Nicaragua. Mejia Godoy and his group had been working on the parts of these mass for months with two clear objectives: To bring all the musics of Nicaragua into one great work, and to talk to the Nicaraguan people about a God that was closer to them, who had become a wood carver, a crafter, a peasant, a construction worker. In a way, it helped bring the revolutionary and the theological message to the people through music as it was happening in Brazil, in Chile, in Argentina and Cuba.


Father Cardenal tells about the day of the premier: “It was an Easter Sunday in 1975, in the town of Solentiname when you could hear a small airplane flying so low, you would think the plane was going to crash on the roof of the houses. Solentiname was located in one of the islands of the great Nicaraguan Lake. Yet, there were peasants from all parts of the country gathering in the church. So many, that there was no doubt there were even some spies hiding among the crowd. As soon as they started playing, it was broken up by men of the National Guard of Nicaragua, and the work was later forbidden by Miguel Obando y Bravo, archbishop of Managua.” Carlos Mejía and his group were sponsored by Father Cardenal, a socialist priest, who helped as theological counselor as the work was being written, and also wrote the preface to the publication of the LP, which was later recorded in Costa Rica in 1977.


Nevertheless, the Misa Nicaragüense grew in popularity through clandestine celebrations, and recordings were circulated underground due to the repression by the Somoza dictatorship. Since the triunfo of the Sandinista Liberation Front in July, 1979, the mass has been celebrated openly, though never by the official Catholic hierarchy.


Our Coro Latinoamericanco is working hard to reconstruct and bring to live this wonderful work which incorporates powerful lyrics and lively rhythms that were inspired in theology of liberation and Nicaraguan folk music, both of which resound with truth today as they did in 1975.


Excerpt in translation:


I believe in you, comrade

Christ man, Christ worker,

Victor over death.

With your great sacrifice

You made new people

For liberation.

You are risen

In every arm outstretched

To defend the people

Against the exploitation of rulers,

You are alive and present in the hut,

In the factory, in the school.

I believe in your ceaseless struggle,

I believe in your resurrection.