Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo of Nicaragua celebrated mass for cheering exiles and insurgent leaders tonight in a defiant gesture of opposition to the Sandinista government in his Central American homeland.

"We have to construct peace, but a peace constructed on the four pillars of love, justice, liberty and truth," the prelate said in a sermon interrupted by applause during several oblique political references. "While there is no Christ, there is no love, and without love, there is no liberty."

In the congregation, as he spoke in Miami's heavily Cuban Little Havana district, were Nicaragua's two most prominent anti-Sandinista guerrilla leaders, Adolfo Calero of the Honduras-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force and Eden Pastora of the Revolutionary Democratic Alliance, headquartered in Costa Rica. Both were applauded by an overflow crowd of several thousand Nicaraguan and Cuban exiles as they entered St. Michael's Church and took places side by side behind the altar.

Obando y Bravo stopped in Miami on his way home from Rome, where he was elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Reports from Nicaragua said his decision to say mass for Miami's exile community before celebrating a service in his own country has generated criticism from Sandinista supporters, particularly among progovernment clerics.

Many of Miami's estimated 25,000 Nicaraguan exiles have been among the insurgents' closest supporters and left their homeland because of opposition to the Marxist-led Sandinista revolutionaries who ousted the late Anastasio Somoza in 1979. The political meaning of Obando y Bravo's decision was particularly underlined by the presence of Calero and Pastora.

Obando y Bravo, 59, was an early supporter of the anti-Somoza revolution. But he has been an outspoken opponent of Sandinista rule since soon after the takeover, frequently criticizing their policies from his pulpit as archbishop of Managua. Last year, for example, Obando y Bravo urged the government to accept church-mediated peace talks with the insurgents, which the U.S.-backed guerrillas have advocated and the government has opposed.

"We must ask in this mass for reconciliation," he said tonight, in an apparent allusion to his proposal.

President Daniel Ortega, in a mark of respect, is expected to be among those meeting him at the airport on his return Friday afternoon, reports from Managua said.