La mitad de Nicaragua - una diocesís capuchina: Bluefields

(First part Spanish, than English; primera parte Español, después Inglés)

El Vicariato de Bluefields fue erigido en el año 1913, el 2 de diciembre. El Papa de aquel tiempo, San Pío X, encargó a la Orden Capuchina el cuido espiritual de esa porción de Nicaragua, que se identifica con los Regiones Autónomos de Atlántico Norte y Sur y de Zelaya Central. La Provincia de Cataluña, España, empezó el trabajo misional formal en 1914 y se retiró de la Misión de Bluefields en 1943, debido a la falta de personal. Pero el Padre General Capuchino encargó la misión a los Capuchinos norteamericanos de la Provincia de Detroit, Michigan, quienes todavía están en la misma zona. En 1982 con la creación de la Vice Provincia General de América Central, el Padre General entregó esta misión a la Vice Provincia de América Central.

El territorio de la Misión cubre casi la mitad de la República de Nicaragua, con 59 mil Km2 y unos 620,640 habitantes dispersos en pequeñas comunidades y caseríos. La gente ocupa el idioma español como lengua oficial, pero hay unos 104,666 de habla miskita, 6,539 de habla mayagna y 15,956 de habla inglesa creole.

Notes on my visit to Nicaragua in February of 2008 (from Sister Agnes Fischer, Green Bay)

I had been invited by Bishop Paul Schmitz, bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, Nicaragua, to continue working on the Vicariate archives. Upon arriving on February 4th, I found that Bishop Paul’s secretary, Carmen, who is actually retired and caring for her aged mother, was immersed in compiling the “Quinquennial Report” to Rome. This is a report each diocese submits every five years prior to their “Ad-Liminum” visit to Rome. The report, which was due in 2003, and the visit were deferred at that time because of Pope John Paul II’s illness and death. So this report would cover eight years.

Since I had prepared the last report in 2000, Bishop Paul asked that, instead of working on archives, I would help Carmen with this one. I actually spent all of my time on the report and found some very interesting facts about the growth of the Vicariate in the last eight years.

One new parish was established in2001 bringing the number to 14. 4 native priests were ordained. Of the 24 priests in the Vicariate, 13 are natives. 4 of these completed studies in Rome in Canon Law, Misiology, Spirituality, and Scripture. The number of Capuchin priests has decreased from 9 to 7, including the two bishops. As the North American Capuchins now serving retire from the mission, they are being replaced by native priests. Three native Capuchins from the Central American Vice Province are serving in one parish. The median age of the priests is 51, while the median age of the 14 active permanent deacons is 60. The average number of faithful per priest is 21,400.

The number of Sisters has increased from 48 to 60. Vocations among young women seem to be alive and well. In fact, one congregation sends a percentage of women in formation to its motherhouse in Spain for further studies because vocations on the Continent are not as plentiful as in Latin America.

Catholic rural schools have increased from 419 to 508 with an increase of students from 27 thousand to 29 thousand.

In the 14 parishes there are 940 Basic Christian Communities in what we call the mountain or “bush” area. These local churches are served by 1937 Delegates of the Word, up from 1716 eight years ago, and 5008 catechists, up from 3584. The Delegates conduct Sunday services and are generally considered community leaders or “lay pastors”. The catechists prepare people for reception of the sacraments and, in some parishes, teach Sunday school. Besides these ministries there are youth ministers, visitors of the sick, and committee members of all kinds. The Church of the Vicariate of Bluefields is alive with activity and committed people.

I spent one week end in the parish where we sisters had spent more than 25 years of our time in the Vicariate, Muelle de los Bueyes. I found that many of the projects that we worked on are still on-going, though somewhat changed and adapted to the natives that are running them. It is good to see the people taking ownership of their Church and its programs.

A program to help young people in the mountain communities complete their education, Studied by Encounter, which our community continues to support financially, continues and had been adapted to include youth with possible aspirations to the priesthood or religious life.

A new program in the health field is the establishment of a “Maternity House”. It has been in operation for one year. It is housed in the former jail building. This building has been completely renovated with help from “Project Denmark” I visited the house and can attest that it is lovely, light, clean, welcoming and comfortable. One would never imagine that it had been a jail. A woman with an at-risk pregnancy can come to stay in the house to await the birth of her child. Then she can stay for as long as necessary to recover and give the child a healthy start in life. The woman in charge of the house was the director of the rural health and midwives program. The Department of Health and the pastor asked her to take on this new role even as she continues to monitor the midwives and community medicine cabinet programs. Doña Silvia proudly informed me of the statistics for the first year. The house has 10 beds, a living room, kitchen, laundry, meeting room and office. During the first year of operation 58 women stayed there for a total of 773 days. 59 children were born. 47 births were normal; 12 were cesarean. There were no infant or maternal deaths.

The maternity house is also used for instructive programs on pregnancy, nutrition, breastfeeding, infant and child care, domestic violence, etc. Those who participate in these programs are midwives, pregnant women and sometimes their husbands, and women in general. The number of people attending the talks varied from 14 to 43.

Another big event for the parish of Muelle was the arrival of new Sisters. The parish had been five years without sisters as the congregation who replaces us stayed only three years. A congregation from Honduras, Franciscan Parroquial Collaborators, sent three Sisters, two Honduranians and a Mexican, to begin their mission. They were received in a solemn ceremony on February 28th by the pastor, Father Javier, Bishop Paul, and happy parishioners. The charism of this congregation is to collaborate in parish ministries. We wish them and the parish peace and all good as they begin to work together.