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Nicaraguan Cardinal Returns Home to Enthusiastic Welcome

Times Staff Writer

Miguel Obando y Bravo, the newly consecrated Roman Catholic cardinal of Nicaragua and a harsh critic of the Sandinista government, returned to Managua on Friday night from the Vatican to an enthusiastic welcome by thousands of supporters.

Riding atop a slow moving truck from the airport through the streets of Managua, Obando y Bravo heard the warm greetings of his countrymen who lined the streets to see him.

“Long live Obando,” they shouted as his caravan passed.

“Christianity, yes, Communism, no,” shouted groups of youths. Other bystanders called out, “This is the true face of the people.”

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Some anti-Sandinista slogans were mixed with religious greetings.

The only reported incident occured near the airport when a crowd of 2,000 tried to gather for Obando y Bravo’s early evening arrival.

Police turned a water hose on the crowd and angry spectators responded with rocks and small fireworks. There were apparently no injuries or arrests.

Observers said that the outpouring for Obando y Bravo was matched only by the welcome accorded Pope John Paul II during his 1983 visit.

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Obando y Bravo, 59, son of a peasant gold miner and Indian mother, was elevated to cardinal by the Pope in April and consecrated May 25 at the Vatican along with 27, other prelates.

Many Nicaraguans consider him the only powerful voice of opposition to the Marxist-led Sandinista government and his elevation to cardinal is seen by many as strengthening his role in Nicaraguan politics.

He has accused the Sandinistas of being “capable of any barbarity” and has called on the government to negotiate with the U.S.-backed contras. His comments have infuriated the Sandinistas, who chide him for not condemning the contras and say he is in league with CIA plots against the government.

But during the past week church spokesmen have tried to play down his political role.

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“The Church tries to guide by pointing out what’s right and wrong,” said Bishop Pedro Pablo Vega, head of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference. “We don’t get involved in partisan politics.”

But the faithful along the caravan route voiced different sentiments.

“He talks for the people,” said a young typesetter. “He defends our livelihood and works for peace.”

“We are here of our own will, not like the government demonstrations where we have to go or we don’t get our ration cards,” offered Gonzalo Centeno, 28, who resides in a neighborhood near the airport.

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“The government doesn’t want Catholicism or anything else but Marxism,” Centeno added.

Some spectators cried, “One church only,” an implied criticism of pro-Sandinista priests who participate in the popular church, an unofficial offshoot of the Catholic diocese here.

The official Sandinista party newspaper Barricada mentioned nothing of Obando’s return Friday. In contrast, the opposition daily, La Prensa, has published details of his arrival throughout the week, and on Friday printed a big headline in blue ink that read: “The People Receive Obando.”

Police and Sandinista officials kept a low profile during the parade from the airport Friday night.

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