Ernesto Cardenal (1925-2020)

Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaragua (The Ernesto Cardenal Papers, University of Texas)

Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, one of Latin America’s most admired poets and priests, who defied the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980s by serving in the revolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua, died on Sunday in Managua, Nicaragua. He was 95. His priestly authority was revoked by Nicaragua’s bishops in 1984 under Pope John Paul II’s purge of priests practicing liberation theology. Fr. Cardenal celebrated Mass from his hospital bed in February 2019, after Pope Francis granted him absolution from “all canonical censorships.”

Here’s an excerpt from The Gospel in Solentiname (p136) by Ernesto Cardenal based on recording years of Sunday reflections on the gospel readings with the community in Solentiname, a remote archipelago in Lake Nicaragua. It was first published in 1970 in four volumes.

Are you the one who is to come or do we wait for another one? (Matthew 11)

DONA OLIVIA: I imagine John knew he was going to die. He knew the regime he was living under. And he asked that question so his disciples would know that there was going to be somebody else who would replace him, so they would know that the Messiah was already here. I don’t believe he would have doubted. And he asked it so that the disciples wouldn’t be discouraged when he died, for he had to die for freedom, and Jesus had to die for the same reason. Their fate wasn’t to triumph but to die.”

And below a beautiful poem by Cardenal translated from Spanish to English by Thomas Merton.

Ernesto, presente!

Drake in the Southern Sea
BY ERNESTO CARDENAL (translated by Thomas Merton)
For Rafael Heliodoro Valle

I set out from the Port of Acapulco on the twenty-third of March
And kept a steady course until Saturday, the fourth of April, when
A half hour before dawn, we saw by the light of the moon
That a ship had come alongside
With sails and a bow that seemed to be of silver.
Our helmsman cried out to them to stand off
But no one answered, as though they were all asleep.
Again we called out: “WHERE DID THEIR SHIP COME FROM?”
And they said: Peru!
After which we heard trumpets, and muskets firing,
And they ordered me to come down into their longboat
To cross over to where their Captain was.
I found him walking the deck,
Went up to him, kissed his hands and he asked me:
“What silver or gold I had aboard that ship?”
I said, “None at all,
None at all, My Lord, only my dishes and cups.”
So then he asked me if I knew the Viceroy.
I said I did. And I asked the Captain,
“If he were Captain Drake himself and no other?”
The Captain replied that
“He was the very Drake I spoke of.”
We spoke together a long time, until the hour of dinner,
And he commanded that I sit by his side.
His dishes and cups are of silver, bordered with gold
With his crest upon them.
He has with him many perfumes and scented waters in crystal vials
Which, he said, the Queen had given him.
He dines and sups always with music of violins
And also takes with him everywhere painters who keep painting
All the coast for him.
He is a man of some twenty-four years, small, with a reddish beard.
He is a nephew of Juan Aquinas,* the pirate.
And is one of the greatest mariners there are upon the sea.
The day after, which was Sunday, he clothed himself in splendid garments
And had them hoist all their flags
With pennants of divers colors at the mastheads,
The bronze rings, and chains, and the railings and
The lights on the Alcazar shining like gold.
His ship was like a gold dragon among the dolphins.
And we went, with his page, to my ship to look at the coffers.
All day long until night he spent looking at what I had.
What he took from me was not much,
A few trifles of my own,
And he gave me a cutlass and a silver brassart for them,
Asking me to forgive him
Since it was for his lady that he was taking them:
He would let me go, he said, the next morning, as soon as there was a breeze;
For this I thanked him, and kissed his hands.
He is carrying, in his galleon, three thousand bars of silver
Three coffers full of gold
Twelve great coffers of pieces of eight:
And he says he is heading for China
Following the charts and steered by a Chinese pilot whom he captured …

*Juan Aquinas = John Hawkins

This poem is based on a strictly historical account of the encounter with Drake written by a Spanish captain, in a letter to the Viceroy of New Spain, dated Realejo (Nicaragua), 1579.

Thomas Merton, “Drake in the Southern Sea” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. Copyright © 1977 by The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (1977)

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