Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pre-Trip Reflections: Sara Cawley


I signed up for the Nicaragua Immersion Project because I wanted to do something meaningful with my winter break. I think most students can agree that by the beginning of January, a cabin fever of sorts has begun to set in; I knew that by going to Nicaragua I would avoid that and experience something life-changing. Not only have I never been outside of the United States besides Canada, I also haven’t been on a plane in nearly ten years, so I saw this trip as an opportunity to really broaden my horizons. As a political science and environmental studies double major, I am very interested in learning about Nicaragua’s political system, culture, and natural surroundings. I’m incredibly excited to have the opportunity to experience another country at such a level of immersion - a little nervous too, since taking Latin through high school and college has left me with very little knowledge of Spanish. Regardless, I can’t wait for the trip, and I’m sure it will be an amazing experience!

Religion in Nicaragua

Catholicism is Nicaragua’s main religious denomination, having arrived along with the conquistadors during the 16th century, and was considered the country’s official religion until 1939. The Protestant movement has gained strength over the past few decades, but when most Nicaraguans speak of “the church,” they are still referring to the Roman Catholic Church. Over 90 percent of Nicaragua belongs to various Christian denominations. Protestant denominations such as Moravian and Episcopalian are mostly centered along the Atlantic Coast with Catholicism being concentrated mostly in the central and Pacific areas of Nicaragua. Most of these churches have been established through the efforts of missionaries from the United States and, although now institutionally independent and led by Nicaraguans, retain strong links with members of the same denomination in the United States. A very small percentage of Nicaraguans practice other forms of religion, such as Judaism. However, although most Nicaraguans are religious, those living in cities are often more observant than those in small towns and villages. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, which concentrates resources and activities in the cities, its capacity to reach rural areas is more limited. Worship of saints in particular is central to Nicaraguan religion, small household shrines decorated with pictures of saints, flowers and candles are commonly found in Nicaraguan homes. The main religious holiday is La Purisima, a week of festivities in early December in horror of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception. Most of the private schools in Nicaragua, attended by upper and middle-class students, were established or are run by the Church. Religion and politics are more intertwined more in Nicaragua; bishops’ opinions on state issues are frequently considered, and can be found in attendance at important state events. They can also be called upon to mediate between contending parties at moments of political crisis. During the 1970s, many Roman Catholic clergy and lay ministers began to support the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or FSLN), in its opposition to the regime of President Somoza. Their support eventually caused serious divisions within the Nicaraguan Church and the FSLN. A group of leading bishops accused the Sandinistas and their Roman Catholic supporters of attempting to divide the church by creating a separate Popular Church. Conflict between Catholic FSLN supporters and less-radical members of the Church continued until the 1980s, when the bishops limited the church-based activities of pro-FSLN clergy. Protestant leaders were less inclined than Roman Catholic clergy to become involved in the Sandinista cause. Some were openly supportive or condemning of the FSLN, but most leaders generally adopted a public stance that was apolitical. The expansion of the Protestant population actually accelerated under Sandinista rule. During the first five years of Sandinista government, the number of evangelical churches (largely Pentecostal) doubled to 3,000.

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