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In these times we find so many threats to peace in the hearts of individuals, families, peoples and nations. The world in which we live is deathly sick, due to its ever hardening heart. Countries that were Christian turn more and more pagan with each successive year, and thus less human. Here in Central America where Catholicism is still strong, the threats to peace abound through ever increasing poverty and social instability.
Blessed John Paul II said that it is only in Jesus Christ that a human being can really encounter himself. It is only in Jesus, and through His cross, that we encounter the peace that each person seeks. And beneath the cross, we receive his Mother, Mary the Queen of Peace, as our own mother who guides us to Peace.
In the times in which we live we should remember the words God gave to the Emperor Constantine, a pagan, to conquer all the enemies of peace, “in this sign you will conquer!” The sign that he saw was a large cross in the skies. We know that by the conversion of Constantine through the sign of the cross, Jesus conquered the paganism that ruled the Roman empire of the time. With this thought in mind, we need to constantly remember the cross during these confusing times in order show all from whence comes true hope and peace.
Therefore, in the name of the Bishop Rolando José Álavarez, of the diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, I, Rev. John Anthony Boughton, CFR, ask all Catholics of good will to help in whatever means possible with the project of Apante, the Mountain of Peace.
This project is located in the nature reserve of Cerro Apante, located in Matagalpa, at the center of Nicaragua, which is at the heart of Central America, and thus the visual center of the Americas, in order to mark all the Americas with the cross of Jesus Christ.
The cross will be visible for many kilometers around, shining from within in the night. The cross will be 33 meters high, in honor of the years Our Lord walked the earth. The cross will remind one of the cross over Medjugojre where millions of pilgrims have gone on pilgrimage seeking the peace of Jesus, through the intercession of his mother Mary Queen of Peace. At the foot of the cross one will find a 12 meter high image of Our Lady. To arrive at the cross there will be a way of the cross beginning at the cathedral, passing on up to the top of the mountain, some 3 kilometers away, in order for people to do acts of penance and reparation, which are necessary aids in bringing conversion of heart,.
The second phase of the project will be completed when we construct the Queen of Peace Chapel where pilgrims will be able to rest and participate in the Mass. If God grants it this chapel in honor of Our Lady Queen of Peace will be a place of pilgrimage and conversion for all Central Americans who so desperately seek peace in these times of political and social trouble.
Thank you for your time and attention.
In Christ and Francis,
Rev. John Anthony Boughton, CFR
Once in a while a person arrives in a place in which he has never been, yet finds himself feeling very much at home. So it is for me as we begin our new friary here in Matagalpa Nicaragua. At the writing of this we have yet to even name the friary, which is appropriate because it really does not exist yet. We will have to build a proper friary for our use from the ground up. Providentially, just as we received an official invitation to come to this diocese, and permission from Cardinal Egan to go, the diocese of Matagalpa was given land by two brothers who wanted a Catholic presence on a poor mountainside barrio overlooking the city. It is perfect for us. What ever we build there will be by the benefaction of donors, and owned by the diocese, as is our custom. Presently we are living in a vacant office building. But these happenings are superficial and do not affect this sense of being home that strikes so deeply.
I have tried to put my finger on why this sense of being at home is so strong, and I find so many varied things. There is the Spanish Colonial flavor, which reminds me of my Texas roots, as does the gregarious, self confidence of the Nicaraguan people. Nicaraguans have a wonderful sense of their cultural identity. They are quick with songs and poems that describe their beloved homeland. There is also the centuries old Franciscan presence here. Thus, within the living cultural memory of the people is the vivid remembrance that the Faith was brought here at great personal expense by men such as Venerable Antonio Margil, OFM. (Please look up his history on line. We want to see his cause for canonization furthered.) The fact that a Friar is more often than not recognized for what he is makes one feel accepted, and makes the quizzical looks and stares that still come from those who do not know us, more tolerable.
Another homey aspect of the place is the ring of high rugged mountains all around the city that often remind me of other places where I have enjoyed living for a time, such as New Mexico, and Herzegovina in Bosnia. Like Bosnia where I lived and worked for two years during the war there, Nicaragua has also known very recent revolution and long civil wars, especially here in Matagalpa. There is that knowledge of a people with deep wounds whose mostly unspoken fears of a re-ignition of open conflict lie very near the surface. Yes, this too is quite familiar. Every one of these elements adds to this sense I have of being at home, but none touches the heart of it directly.
Recently, however, I came to understand, why. Just as Our Lady has appeared in these last years in the hills of Herzegovina in Medjugorje, so too, she has appeared here in Nicaragua in the 1980´s. So too, she calls her children to draw on that Peace that can only be found in her Son Jesus. In this thought my mind and my heart meet and say, “Of course…, home is where Mama is!”
Nicaragua is a decidedly Marian nation. She was consecrated to Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception long ago, just as the Croatians of Herzegovina officially named Mary as the ever reigning queen of their land. The national devotion to her here is very strong. In Managua, for instance there is a massive statue of her placed in the center of a roundabout on the major highway through town. Appropriately, because where one finds her one soon encounters Jesus, there is a massive statue of Him on the very next roundabout. These were paid for by public funds. Similar images can be seen in most towns that I have seen.
True Marian devotion always draws one to her Son, so it is not surprising that the nation also has an intense devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, every Thursday in virtually all the parishes there is all day adoration going on with processions. And with devotion to the Eucharist there naturally follows a desire for sacramental confession. Fr. Francis Mary, Fr. Terry and myself were happily surprised when we showed up, unannounced, to hear a few confessions one Thursday noon at the cathedral and only surfaced some three and a half hours later. What a wonderful problem to have! We will make this a weekly apostolate, now.
Yes, living in Nicaragua feels very much like home, because Our Lady is so present here, and she is so accepted. It feels like home because there is still a large vibrant part of the nation that is unafraid to proclaim their faith, and to try and fight for what is true, good and just. It is thus no surprise that, recently, 98% of the votes were cast to keep abortion illegal, and despite the heavy pressure of foreign governments and NGO’s to change that.
This is not to say that Nicaragua is paradise on earth. There is deep poverty here after years of civil war, and major natural disasters every couple of decades. The economy is supported from outside. The political scene is volatile, at best, like most Central American countries. Alcoholism, which is fostered by the poverty, is rampant. These things are real problems. They are signs that this is not in fact our final home. Similarly, Bosnia, Herzegovina suffered for centuries under regimes of the Turks, Nazis, and Communists that tried desperately to squelch all signs of faith in Jesus.
Having a Marian nation does not mean being a people unfamiliar with conflict. Quite the opposite is true. In fact, it should be no surprise that where Our Lady is, the enemy is close at hand trying to thwart anyone from gaining the Peace that her Son offers. It is biblical, after all. The enemy is “furious at the Woman and [goes] off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus…”? (Rev 12:17) Being in a state of conflict should be familiar to all of devotees of Mary precisely because we bear witness to her Son. I have often reflected on my time in Medjugorje that the war in Bosnia was only a physical manifestation of the spiritual battle being waged all over the world. Happily, it is usually not an armed physical combat, but it is real, and constant, nonetheless.
Mary calls us never to shy from the fight, but rather enter into it armed with the only weaponry that works, peace itself. Jesus says to us, “My peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid….” (John 14:27) Later He tells us the world will hate us. “You will have trouble in the world but be not afraid, I have overcome the world.” Being peaceful comes when we get close to Jesus through prayer. “Pray, pray, pray!” has been the constant cry of Mary in Medjugorje. Peace itself is the weapon with which we wage our battle against the forces of darkness. Peace comes to those around us when we are peaceful, in and through Him.
Home for a Christian will only be found in Heaven. That is our only Home. But we can have foretastes of it despite the earthly struggles. Ours is to fight with the weaponry of the King of Peace so that all around us will have a foretaste of home. The feeling of being at home here in Nicaragua, however, speaks to me of the fact that this is a nation where the things of faith still matter. It shows that many hearts are directed toward our true home. The problems here do not overshadow the fact that something beautiful is alive in the faith life of so many.
I know that many people from many different nations will read this reflection. Know that Jesus is calling you personally through it to fight and make your nation not just one that is without war, for the mere absence of war does not define peace. Rather, you are called to be one who makes your homeland homier by being a conduit of peace to the people of your nation directing them toward the one true homeland…Heaven. Therefore, I invite you to that which Mary has called us to from Medjugorje, and from here in Nicaragua…. pray, fast, read the Scriptures, confess your sins, and convert. These are the weapons of peace. Use them and you will know that peace which passes all understanding. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come!