Church puts aside past to mark Nicaragua revolution

Managua, Nicaragua - Nicaragua's Roman Catholic cardinal held a mass on Tuesday to celebrate the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, attended by his former adversary, the leftist leader Daniel Ortega.

Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo told a congregation in Managua Cathedral they should consider the poor before they vote in November presidential elections, when Ortega will make another bid for office.

"One should vote thinking of the poor, of an alternative that assures more justice," the cardinal said, while calling for better salaries and a broader health service.

When they took power in 1979, the Sandinistas improved living conditions for some of the poor and introduced free healthcare and universal education, but were criticized for human rights abuses and forced military conscription.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Americas.

After supporting the Sandinista's right to use arms to bring down the repressive Somoza family dictatorship, Obando y Bravo became a vocal critic of the leftists, whom he called godless.

Instead he supported their right-wing, U.S.-backed "Contra" opponents.

Ortega, whose Soviet-backed government defied Washington throughout the 1980s and supported armed uprisings in other parts of Central America, leads polls to win the November 5 elections, although most surveys say the vote will be to close to decide without a runoff.

Two years ago, Ortega, who was Nicaragua's president from 1984-1990, asked the Catholic Church for forgiveness for "errors" while he was in power in the 1980s.