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The new cathedral seemed to be an appropriate symbol of the walls of frustration that the poorest Nicaraguans confront every day.

Weston Benedictine Monks
Journey to Nicaragua
Winter Retreat, 2001

Managua's new cathedral,
far removed from its people

(ONE OF A SERIES )

MANAGUA: We could see its bleak walls from several kilometers away, rising above the surrounding fields on the edge of the city.

Squatters once lived here, before their barrio was bulldozed to make way for commercial development.

A fence surrounds the place; at the gate, a security guard allows our bus to enter.

large new cathedral
New cathedral, sponsored by a wealthy U.S. donor

We have arrived at the Nueva Catedral de Managua, the new concrete cathedral built with funds from the United States.

Its front doors open onto a palm tree-lined promenade, at the end of which one can see a multiplex cinema, and a great shopping mall, frequented by the wealthy.

Close by the entrance, a few elderly people hold out their hands, begging some attention, some money.

cavernous interior of the cathedral
Cavernous interior of the cathedral

This house for God's people has been located far from the barrios. With its gates and guards and its gray walls, whatever hope it offers seems off-limits to those who need it most.

In what seems a world away, the rutted alleys littered with scraps of plastic and paper lead us back to the novitiate of our Mexican Benedictine sisters, the small, four-room house they call San Benito in honor of St. Benedict.

It is a poor dwelling that we return to, but truly it is a house for the people.

Unremarkable from the street, Communidad San Benito has become a beacon for the sisters' neighbors, a place of hope for many young people.

Youth group Eucharist at San Benito
Youth group Eucharist at San Benito

"Life in this country is terrible!" one young man confided as we gathered there for Eucharist.

From the open Biblia Latinoamericana, we share Mark's gospel story about Jesus' calming of the stormy sea, knowing that it is also the story of Nicaraguans today.

"There is no work." they tell us. "The government is corrupt. Gangs roam the streets and control the barrios.

"With no future ahead of us, many young people are taking their lives in desperation. The Church is not interested in us, but only in the rich.

"But," they say, "the sisters have given us hope -- and a reason to live."

Here, hidden among the dwellings of the poor, we have returned to the true face of the Church, the people's cathedral.

Next: San Nicolas de Oriente: In the mountains of Nicaragua

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