Miguel Obando Bravo was born in La Libertad, Nicaragua, on 2 February 1926, to a peasant family. After attending courses at the Salesian institute in Granada, he obtained his baccalaureate in Latin and Greek in San Salvador and, after attending the Normal School of the same city, he graduated in Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy.
Upon entering the Salesian Congregation in 1949, he professed his first vows on 31 January 1950 in Ayagualo, near El Salvador, and his perpetual vows in Antigua Guatemala on 29 October 1955. He studied Theology in Guatemala and later Psychology of Vocations in Colombia, Venezuela and Rome and was ordained a priest on 10 August 1958 also in Antigua Guatemala.
He was a teacher of Mathematics and Physics in high schools in Nicaragua and El Salvador; then Rector of the Rinaldi formation house in El Salvador from 1961 to 1968; Provincial Councillor for Central America (CAM); and the CAM Delegate to the 19th General Chapter of the Salesian Congregation, which took place in Rome in 1965.
Appointed by Paul VI as titular Bishop of Puzia di Bizacena and Auxiliary of Matagalpa (Nicaragua) on 18 January 1968, he received episcopal ordination on 31 March of the same year. During his time in Matagalpa, he devoted particular pastoral attention to the campesinos and their urgent problems.
On 16 February 1970 he became Archbishop of Managua, taking possession of the Archdiocese on 4 April of the same year.
In a very difficult period in the history of Nicaragua, with contradictory currents, he knew how to act as a bulwark for contradictory tendencies. He was vocal in opposing injustices and violence, including through pastoral letters and in the columns of the archdiocesan newspaper. He systematically denounced corruption and human rights violations. He was especially critical of the corruption of Anastasio Somoza's regime, which manifested itself through the government's mismanagement of funds allocated for relief after the 1972 Managua earthquake. He also criticised the human rights violations committed by the National Guard. His criticism, justified and appropriate, but constant, earned him the irreverent nickname “Comandante Miguel” by pro-government factions, as if he were a leader of the Sandinista opponents.
But faithful only to the Church and the Nicaraguan people, Obando Bravo was not even a partisan of the Sandinistas when the revolutionary government was established in 1980. He opposed the “Church of the People”, the radical clergy who supported liberation theology, and banned the “Nicaraguan Peasant Mass”; indeed, he insisted on the canonical obligation of the clergy to refuse political roles and opposed what he called the “godless communism” of the Sandinistas.
Pope John Paul II created him a cardinal on 25 May 1985, and made him titular of Saint John the Evangelist in Spinaceto. On his return home, all the people took to the streets to welcome the country’s first cardinal. And as proof of his esteem for him, in 1987 John Paul II invited him to write the texts of the meditations for the Via Crucis at the Colosseum.
He was president of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference for five terms (1971-75, 1979-83, 1985-89, 1993-97 and 1999-2005) and from 1976 to 1981 he was president of the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America and Panama.
Convinced that problems can be resolved through dialogue, he was the guarantor of agreements for peace and reconciliation that, on several occasions, had put an end to violence. The last time he was invited to this position was in 2007: he accepted, but only after receiving permission from the Holy See, with Pope Benedict XVI encouraging him to “work for the reconciliation of the Nicaraguan family”.
Faithful to his Pauline episcopal motto Omibus omnia factus (all things for all people), the cardinal always remembered that the Church in the country was not aligned with any Party but was with the people, ready to denounce every injustice. He wanted a Church totally dedicated to evangelisation and, in fact, to strengthen it he promoted the diocesan synod in Managua, with the aim of making the truth about Christ and the truth about man a part of society, thanks to the contribution of lay Christians.
As cardinal he did not fail to bring the issues of his land to the attention of the world and his action did not remained hidden: numerous international organisations gave him prestigious awards for his uninterrupted pastoral and humanitarian work.
Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo died on 3 June 2018 and is buried in the chapel of the Redemptoris Mater Catholic University in Managua.