Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Third world

Today, resting at home, recuperating from parasites, amoebas and more, with no electricity from about 7 am, I decided to read – and do my laundry!

I picked up a newer version of a book I had read a few years ago on cultural challenges. I am realizing that one of my frustrations is not always being well-aware of the cultural differences here.

But what struck me was the authors use of the term “majority world,” something I had run across before. I also had heard the term “two-thirds world.” These are ways of trying to refer to what has often been called the “third world.” The term “third world” has become offensive.

In one way I can understand this. How can we refer to most of the world’s population, the impoverished majorities, in a way that doesn’t demean them, as third-class citizens.

In my work I don’t run across a “world.” I run across people and communities. There’s Xiomara and Mery, Isaías and José, Carlitos and Darlin, Wendy and Kayli. There’s Plan Grande, Dulce Nombre, Pasquingual, Delicias.

But in a way they are a “third world,” a world pushed to the margins, a world denied access to the world’s goods. The people are treated as third-class (or worse).

But they are more than their economic status. They are real people. This came home to me when I went to visit my neighbor and they told me that the father of a young catechist in a nearby village had been killed on Sunday. They are people who bleed and grieve, who suffer loss. They are people who are victimized – not victims; they are impoverished, not poor. And many of them have a resilience and a faith I cannot even dream of.

So now, with the electricity finally on, I will post this to help recall the real people who are all too often categorized as poor victims. No. They are real people.

Saturday, May 06, 2017


On my way back from a visit to the US I decided to stop in Mexico City to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As I walked from the METRO (subway) to the grounds of the shrine, passing beggars and vendors of all sorts, I saw the old basilica at the end of the street – a welcoming sight.

Entering the grounds and approaching the new basilica, I could see the tilma of Juan Diego above the altar in the rather modernistic basilica. The image is smaller than I had thought and is high above the main altar.

I passed in front of the image a few times and then, after a visit to the shop in the basilica, I entered the basilica for the next Mass, which was accompanied by children and teachers from a Catholic school.

You cannot get very close to the image but have to pass on moving walks under the image. I passed there many times – but it seems strange craning your neck to see the image (and take photos).

Then I decided to walk around the grounds, visiting the various churches and the museum. I was deeply moved by the bright image of San Juan Diego above the altar in the Antique Parroquia de los Indios.

Then I passed to the Capilla del Pocito, the site of an ancient well. Entering the church and passing by the well there is a strong smell, possibly sulfur. The well shows the effects of earthquakes and other movements of the earth.

The church has paintings of the four apparitions. As I read the descriptions, I noted a classic translation fail. More on that later.

But then I walked to the area call La Ofrenda. There is a life-sized panorama of statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe with people, mostly indigenous, coming to pay her homage. I do not know how authentic they are, but I was moved especially by the man offering incense and the child offering lilies. 

But then I walked nearby and came across an image of Juan Bernardino, the sick uncle of Juan Diego. On his woven mat, un metate, he is reaching out to the Virgin who appeared to him and healed him.

As I approached the area, I was three young people from Jalisco in native clothing taking pictures. I offered to take a picture of all of them and they were glad. I was glad to see young people, conserving their indigenous identity and their Catholic faith. Passing them later, I heard them speaking a language other than Spanish.

As I reflected later that day, I was not very moved by what I saw except for the image of Juan Diego, the statues in La Ofrenda, and the young people I encountered. Even though I passed by the image many times, I was not moved by the image – as much as by bronze sculptures of Juan Diego by the moving walkways.


I think it was partly because I am more moved by the story and by the encounter of Mary and the Americas, in the person of Juan Diego than by an image. Also, I had no one to really share the experience with. 

But I decided to return the next day. I sat for Mass in a different place and saw the image from a different angle – with the cross at one side and an image of Juan Diego at the other. Sitting quietly, waiting for Mass, I felt much more connected to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe - who makes sense in the light of the Cross and in the light of the indigenous of the Americas. 

As I left I saw two people approaching the basilica on their knees in the plaza in front of the church. I had seen two during Mass the first day. 

During that second visit I experienced a peace that still pervades me, as I have returned home to Honduras.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A US visit

I’m in the United States for about two weeks, mostly to celebrate the fifty years my cousin, Mary Barrar, has lived as a vowed Sister of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill.

I decided to take advantage of this trip and arrived a week early for a workshop on Creative Workshop Design at Training for change in Philadelphia. It was a very intensive workshop with people from all across the US and Canada, mostly working on issues of racism. It was challenging and helpful. I even had time to work on my catechists’ workshop and got some good feedback to improve it.

The workshop and walking through this West Philadelphia neighborhood were very good for me and I got a few delightful surprises.

Training for Change is, as I see it, fairly secular, though I believe it has Quaker roots. It is very committed to people of color – and is very much connected with LGTBQ activists. It was thus very encouraging to see how my obvious connection with the Catholic Church was never an object of disdain. In fact, I found many very supportive of me, even though I guess that they might not agree with all my beliefs and practices. That is important for me and I wish others, especially in the church, would have such positive experiences and move away from their combative and oppressive approach.

What also gave me cause for awe was the abundance of spring in Philadelphia. Though the nights were cool, the flowers and the trees were blooming. There were tulips and many other spring flowers and these beautiful pink flowered trees.

That struck me is how the flowers call from the trees and make the whole area around them a world of pink. Such abundance – even extravagance.

After Philadelphia, I went to Cranford, New Jersey, to visit and stay with an old friend (younger than I am, though). I also went into New York.

After confession at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street, I went up to visit the Cloisters Museum, one of my favorite places in Manhattan. When I was a grad student in the city between 1970nand 1974, this was one of my refuges.

As I got off the subway, I asked a woman if this was the stop for the Cloisters. She said yes and told me how to get there. We continued talking on the elevator up to the street. She is among those who maintain a garden in the park that goes up to the museum and told me to be sure to pass through the park and see the flowers. We parted, wishing each other well.

It was a delight to speak with such a warm person and then to see the park with tulips and other flowers.

Then I spent a short time in the Cloisters, not only marveling at the art but glorying in the abundance of the trees, flowers, and herbs.

I’ll be heading to Philadelphia area tomorrow for visiting friends and family and for the celebration. After this I’ll return to home in Honduras, after a short visit to Mexico City, to visit the Virgin of Guadalupe and more.

A change of pace, but, God willing, a way to open me to better serve God’s people.