The Alitalia plane that took John Paul II to Nicaragua landed at 9:15 a.m. local time on March 4, 1983.
In Managua, the authorities of the Sandinista Governing Junta were waiting for the pope, including the junta coordinator, Daniel Ortega, who with his wife, Rosario Murillo, now lead the current Nicaraguan dictatorship.
The Polish pope arrived in a country that was on the verge of a civil war.
According to Nicaragua Investiga online news, there was a banner at the airport that said “Welcome to free Nicaragua thanks to God and the revolution.” In this setting, Ortega delivered a speech in support of the Sandinista regime.
John Paul II greeted the other authorities who were waiting for him, as well as Ernesto Cardenal, a priest and Marxist liberation theology activist who was holding public office as the regime’s minister of culture, something incompatible with the ministry of Catholic priests.
“When he came over to where I was, I did what I had planned to do in this case: take off my beret and kneel down to kiss his ring. He didn’t let me kiss it, and waving his finger as if it were a cane, he told me in a reproachful tone: You must regularize your situation. Since I didn’t answer anything, he repeated it again,” Cardenal recounted in his book “The Lost Revolution.”
In his opening address, John Paul II said that he was arriving in Nicaragua “in the name of the One who gave his life for love for the liberation and redemption of all men. I would like to make my contribution so that the suffering of innocent peoples of this area of the world ceases; so that the bloody conflicts, hatred, and sterile accusations end, leaving space for genuine dialogue.”
In addition to Cardenal, other priests were also part of the government: his brother Fernando worked with the Sandinista Youth, Miguel d’Escoto was the foreign minister, and Edgar Parrales was a diplomat.
Hugo Torres, then head of the political leadership of the Nicaraguan Army in those years, recalled that there was heavy security to protect the pope, also because one day before the pope’s arrival, 17 young Sandinistas were killed by the “Contras,” the counterrevolutionary group financed by the United States that engaged in a civil war with the Sandinistas for a decade.
John Paul II then went by helicopter to León, where he said a few brief words to the faithful present before returning to Managua.