Our Diocesan Relationships with Nicaragua

The Diocese of St. Cloud has some wonderful connections in Mission with Nicaragua. Our Diocesan relationships are deeply rooted in the mission experiences of Sauk Centre native, Fr. Ted Niehaus, as well as our mission staff and other missioners from our diocese. Find out about these missioners and connections, and hear about experiences visiting Nicaragua.

+ Fr. Teddy Niehaus

neihausFr. Ted Niehaus, a Franciscan Cappuchin Priest born in Sauk Center, Minnesota, lived and ministered in Nicaragua for his priestly life of 46 years.  Fr. Teddy passed away on November 19, 2014, leaving behind his family, his Cappuchin community, and a huge family in both Nicaragua and Minnesota who shared in and witnessed his Spirit of prayer, simplicity and mission over the years.  The following is a message from him regarding his missionary life written a few years before his death:

The mission experience: what is it? why do I continue coming back to it after more then 30 years? Christian mission is a passage; it is to cross the boundary between faith in Jesus Christ and its absence: To pass from one cultural context to another. This transition supposes a list of functions such as: to proclaim, to witness, to serve, to worship, to nurture, to evangelize.

To do this is a real challenge. We do not fly out of our comfortable nests very willingly. We remember the first big mission push of our Church was caused by persecution. Acts tells us that King Herod killed the apostle James and tried the same with Peter. Many first Christians ran to cross the border to get out of danger but carried the faith with them to their new place. During the war in Nicaragua, I asked a lay pastor in one of my 70 mountain communities why he ran and abandoned his church work. He looked quite sad and after a silence said, “por amor de este cuero,” “for love of my hide.” I suppose we also do a lot to save our hide. When we cross borders, we do risk our hide and a lot more. Maybe there is always that anxiety about how we will be received.

Mission has to proceed in a way compatible with the intention of Jesus and at the same time respect legitimate claims of persons. People are not blank slates upon whom a passing missioner can write what he or she pleases. Each society of people lives in a cultural heritage and human context all its own. Each culture has seeds of the Word of God implanted by our Divine Creator. What is the Gospel message going to do to help each people grow and flower into their particular manifestation of the likeness of God?

This depends on our mission spirit. How well are we mirroring the spirit of Jesus in us? We are like glass windows. A dirty window will draw its attention to the dirt on the glass. A clean window passes our vision on to the scenery beyond. Would it be that each one of our missions begins when we let the Gospel values shine through our sometimes messed up humanity?

On September 11th, you were rudely awakened to the fact that many people are not where we are at. If they are not where we are at, a true Christian missionary spirit spurs us on to do something. It spurs us to go in the spirit of Jesus and seek those who are out there beyond, not to make them like we are, but to offer them a glimpse of Jesus the Lord. How? By pulling out some nice holy picture? Our Lord tells us that through their fruits you will know them. Galatians 5:22 tells us the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity. A glimpse of Jesus is to invite them to follow Him, to point in the same direction He was going and to offer to accompany them on the journey. This down-to-earth evangelization we all can do.  Let us not get bogged down in pure human ambition: if we have the mission spirit of Christ we will rather be reaching out to any and all, within and without our borders. Then the spirit of Jesus will be felt in the lives of the weary and burdened. Let us be careful that this spirit is lived where we live, work and worship.
Read more about Fr. Teddy’s Ministry, delegations to Nicaragua and his life and death in past newsletters (contact the Mission Office for these past editions), or on our stories pages:

  1. Winter 2016
  2. Winter 2015
  3. Winter 2012
  4. Spring 2012
  5. Winter 2011
  6. Spring 2009
  7. Summer 2008

Monica Rudawski

rudowskiMonica Rudawski is a lay Franciscan Associate missioner in Nicaragua. Below is a letter she sent in June of 2004 about the beauty she experiences in Nicaragua.

“There is something about working with the poor that awakens my own wounds. We had been walking from home to home most of the morning in the dust and the heat. At 11:00am it was nearing 105 degrees. We came upon a plastic shack that measured about 10 x 13. “How many families live here?”, we asked. “Four,” they responded. “How many persons in total live here?”, we asked. “Fourteen,” they responded. I looked around the house, seeing the light beams shining through their plastic roof and I wondered what would happen to them when the rains come. My vision rested on a rustic table nearby their open fire where six large tortillas were stacked. A woman removed the seventh and final tortilla from the fire, put it on a plate and gave it to me. As I ate the tortilla, it took all I had to not burst into tears. How could a family of 14, with only seven tortillas to share among them as their entire days food, gift me in this manner? I was consuming Eucharist as I realized all that had been broken and poured out on my undeserving part – a foreigner invading their home, asking questions, with no promises of making a difference. Yet they generously and freely gave to me out of their harsh poverty.”
Read more about Monica’s Ministry in past newsletters (contact the Mission Office for this past edition):

  1. Spring 2010

Project MN-León

Project Minnesota-León (PML) is a non-denominational organization that strives to connect residents of the state of Minnesota in the USA to residents in the state of León, Nicaragua, and has done so for the past 20 years. Previous St. Cloud Mission Office director, Rosanne Fischer, is also a former employee of the PML organization, having lived and worked in Nicaragua for a number of years. The PML model of mutual exchanges and partnership was also used by our diocese in developing our diocesan global solidarity partnership with Homa Bay, Kenya and re-defining our relationship with Maracay, Venezuela. It is an excellent example of solidarity and mission, as has been experienced by the many who have been a part of it.

The following is a first hand account of Project Minnesota Leon (PML) by Susie Schweigert.

I went to Nicaragua for the first time in 1997 with a PML delegation. By the end of those two weeks I had vowed that I would someday return. I did, the next year, this time to Bluefields, on the Atlantic Coast, to work with a construction brigade for URACCAN, the University there. I returned once more with some friends, again to Bluefields, where we worked in a bilingual school tutoring English. Then, while considering different options of what to do after high school, I finally decided on deferring college for a year and returning to Leon to join PML as a volunteer.

It was the best decision I ever made. It’s hard to say what are the most important things I have learned or the best experiences I have had. The thing that still touches me the most, as it did four years ago, is the warmth and welcoming nature of people I met there. Although it was my first time living away from home, and I came down alone, I found it so easy to make friends and had so many things to do and see that I barely had time to feel lonely. That doesn’t mean I was never homesick, and I often wondered what I was thinking deciding to come down here in the first place, but so many things happened to strengthen the decision I had made that all the hard times are well overshadowed by the good ones.

My primary job in Leon was working as a teacher’s assistant/English teacher at a preschool in the Fundeci neighborhood. Overcrowded, understaffed and severely lacking materials, they welcomed me with open arms. Everyday I took the bus, which at first was an adventure in and of itself, and went to school where the happy cries of “Profe Susie!” greeted me. After awhile they knew how to say “good morning” and “goodbye” instead of the usual “buenos dias” or “adios”. The day in December when all the oldest students graduated, complete with caps and gowns, brought tears to my eyes to hear them sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” with the motions I had taught them, all so proud in front of their parents.

Then there were the hours spent in the PML office, translating, helping with the account books, replying to emails. So many tasks that seemed small at the time but amount to more experience and knowledge than I think I would have learned my entire first year in college. Working with the delegations from Minnesota was especially fun. It reminded me of my first time in Nicaragua, a trip that changed my life. I definitely wouldn’t have become a volunteer if it weren’t for that first trip in 1997. After that trip I started working in Minneapolis with a group against sweatshops and child labor, speaking to youth and adults about this issue and about life in third world countries such as Nicaragua. I loved to see the members of these new delegations change as the trips progressed, and I can’t help but hope that maybe they were just as inspired as I was to do something with what they have learned.

The experience I have gained by spending time volunteering in Leon has been invaluable. I can now do things that before never even crossed my mind, like washing my clothes by hand, bargaining in the market, making fresco and gallo pinto. My Spanish, needless to say, improved significantly during the time I was there. It’s more than that, though. It’s the joy I experienced getting to know another culture, all the wonderful people I met, and all the things I learned about this place where I lived for several months. All that and more, so that now I don’t see living in Leon as living in “another country.” It’s just another place I can call home.