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  • Fernando Cardenal poses with his book “Together With My People, With Their Revolution” ahead of an event at the University of Murcia, Spain, March 25, 2009.

    Fernando Cardenal poses with his book “Together With My People, With Their Revolution” ahead of an event at the University of Murcia, Spain, March 25, 2009. | Photo: EFE

Published 21 February 2016

Cardenal, a proponent of liberation theology, was deeply passionate about education and served as a minister in Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

Fernando Cardenal, a Jesuit priest who believed that his duty as a man of faith was to serve the poor – a conviction that led him to serve as as education minister under the Sandinista government in Nicaragua – died early Saturday morning aged 82.

Cardenal garnered international attention when, along with several other priests serving in Nicaraguan government, he famously rebuffed an order from the Catholic Church to abandon politics.

"I cannot conceive of a God that would ask me to abandon my commitment to the people .... From my point of view, and from my personal experience, it is possible to live... simultaneously (in) fidelity to the church as a Jesuit and as a priest, and also devote myself to the service of the poor in Nicaragua from within the Sandinista revolution," Cardenal wrote in an open letter published in 1984.

The order to leave the government came directly from Pope John Paul II, a noted anti-Communist, who eventually had Fernando and his brother Ernesto suspended from the priesthood.

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Cardenal was a proponent of liberation theology, an activist conception of Christianity that gained prominence throughout Latin America as the region struggled to free itself from foreign domination and domestic repression.

Cardenal led the Sandinista government's literacy campaign in 1980, which taught more than half a million people to read and write with the help of 60,000 young volunteers. In 1984, he was named minister of education in the revolutionary government.

Cardenal left political office of his own accord in 1990 and was reinstated into the Jesuit order in 1997.

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope and a Jesuit himself, reinstated Cardenal's associate, Father Miguel d’Escoto, in 2014.

Cardenal later became a critic of the Sandinista movement, but continued his work in education, serving as national director of a Jesuit program that aimed to improve educational opportunities for the poor.

Cardenal's death resulted from complications following an operation to treat a hernia earlier this month.

He will be buried Sunday in Managua's General Cemetery.


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