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Nicaraguan Cardinal Forgives Sandinistas
by Filadelfo Aleman (AP, July 19, 2004)

The Sandinista Front celebrated the 25th anniversary of its 1979 rise to power with an expression of forgiveness Monday from Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo.

The cardinal celebrated a Mass "for peace and reconciliation" in memory of more than 50,000 people who died during the wars of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Mass, the first of a series of planned anniversary events, was an example of the Sandinistas' efforts to reach out to the church.

While in power, the Sandinistas attracted the support of many priests who embraced a left-leaning version of liberation theology, but relations with other clerics — and with Pope John Paul II — were prickly.

Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega recently made a public appeal for forgiveness from the cardinal, who answered his request on Monday.

"Without this pardon, the wounds will continue to bleed, feeding future generations with an endless disgust that is the source of vengeance and the cause of new ruins," the cardinal said. "One cannot remain a prisoner of the past. It is necessary to purify memory."

Ortega called Monday's Mass "the most beautiful and profound that we have heard" from the cardinal.

On Monday, the Sandinistas were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the day their leftist guerrilla forces toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza.

Ortega was installed as president as Somoza was overthrown on July 19, 1979. Guided by Cuban and Eastern European advisers, Nicaragua's Sandinista armed forces later battled U.S.-backed Contra rebels until Ortega lost the presidency in 1990.

Since then, Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front have lost two additional presidential elections, while remaining a major factor in the nation's politics.