Monday, September 15, 2014

Dulce Nombre feast day celebration

Friday, September 12, the parish of Dulce Nombre de María celebrated its feast day, the feast of the Holy Name of Mary.

It began at 4:00 am with a group serenading Mary at the church doors. I missed it, but I got up when the church bells rang about 4:05 am.

A few people came to pray the rosary in church, but the major event was to start at 8:30 am. 

gathered by the gas station

At about 9:15 am, the procession began at the gas station at the edge of Dulce Nombre. There were trucks with images of Mary from Dulce Nombre, Concepción, Dolores, Plan Grande, Candelaria, and San Agustín.

San Agustin float: Mary the pastorcita - the little shepherdess

The procession was led by a cross, followed by the parish marching band.

Yes the parish has a marching band. About sixteen months ago, a group from Santa Rosa came and started teaching a few young people how to play trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and clarinet, as well as various types of percussion. Instruments were also donated.

Despite the fact that the teachers stopped coming from Santa Rosa more than six months ago, the young people have continued practicing every Saturday. A young man who knows some music is helping them, though they could use some more training as well as some music for bands.

Their energy is contagious and it was great to see them leading the procession.

The procession arrived at the church for the Mass which began about 11 and finished a little after 12:30.

I was pleasantly surprised at how often Padre German spoke glowingly of the solidarity shown by the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. As part of the offertory procession, two communion ministers brought forward a banner provided by the parish.

It was a good morning - celebrating the feast of the parish with a combination of popular piety, liturgy, and solidarity.

 For your listening enjoyment, here's a short video of the marching band

UPDATE: photos of the celebration can be found here

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cultural joys and challenges

Thursday night there was a celebration outside the church in Dulce Nombre de Copán to celebrate the patronal feast of the parish on Friday, the feast of the Holy Name of Mary.

The Catholic youth folk dance group, El Questzal, from San Agustín performed. Though they are still amateurs (and maybe that’s best), they are a delight and are full of energy.

A small marching band that is connected with the parish also performed. The drums, trombones, trumpets, saxes, and clarinet were donated and  they are learning without any assistance from a band master, though a young man who knows music is helping them. It was fun to hear them – as well as to see them the next morning. playing at the front of the procession to the church before Mass.

There were two little kids who did a folk dance. The little guy just stood there and the little girl danced around him. She was the star of their act.

But the challenge was the coronation of the Niña Dulce – which literally means the sweet little girl, but which is meant to suggest the name of the parish, Dulce Nombre de María.

Each barrio had a little girl competing for the title. The one who raised the most money won. She was a tiny little girl who looked overwhelmed by the event, though this may have merely been exhaustion since the event lasted until after 9:30 pm. My guess that her bedtime is a bit earlier.

There were the two guys with the swords. Then there were any number of little girls, sometimes accompanied by little boys. There were little girls who were meant to represent the virtues of Mary. And then the niña and her entourage of two other little girls and her “consort.” Almost all the girls were in color coordinated gowns.

The queen was crowned, given a scepter, and clothed with a sash with the inscription – Niña Dulce Nombre 2014.

I just don’t understand this. Yes, I know that Iowa has a pork queen who is, I believe, an older adolescent and I think I can understand that. But little kids in gowns, with crowns.

This morning I was approached twice to share my reflections on the night before. The first was a short interview with the Catholic radio station. Oscar asked me how I enjoyed the last night. With perfect honesty I said I enjoyed the band and the folk dancing. “But what about the Niña Dulce?” he asked. I was diplomatic. I explained this is a new experience for me and it was interesting. He later told me that I was “muy fino” – very genteel or delicate.

Later, over lunch with several people in the parish dining room, a woman from Dulce Nombre asked me for my honest opinion.

I began with an apology for being a little “brusco” (brusque or blunt) and for sometimes not understanding the culture. I honestly said that I liked the dances and the band, but I have problems with the Niña Dulce. I had been thinking about it overnight and so I was ready to explain what I was thinking.

In some cultures, where men are very macho, there are two images of women – either the virgin or the prostitute. But the idea of the Niña Dulce seems to present the image of the woman as princess or queen. The fancy dress, the ladies in waiting, the male consorts present an image of the woman set apart. Is it good to have children absorbing this image of women? What about those who are not chosen – even to run as candidates? What of most women who are not queens?

The reaction of the woman was mixed, though she did note that this was a way to raise money for the parish. I said I didn’t agree. Later, I thought of a harsher critique: Is this using a child for ulterior purposes?

I also mentioned to the group the fact the girl representing the virtue of humility had one of the fanciest gowns. That stuck home and they agreed with me that the message was mixed.

I found out, though, that the gowns are rented. One person told me that his daughter said openly, “Este vestido prestado me pica.” This rented gown itches me.”

What image does this present little girls and young women?

Forgive me if this is cultural insensitivity – but I think that this is something that goes beyond that. Cultures need to be challenged when they harm people or potentially harm them.

So much on this for now. Though I felt uncomfortable I have had an incredible three days, which I will write about soon.

POSTCRIPT: I almost forgot the great fireworks at the end of the Thursday night celebration!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Queens and horse-riding competitions

I am the type of person that savors solitude but also enjoys being active, especially in projects of service and in facilitation of learning. I also just enjoy being around people, especially kids.

Thus there are some experiences here in Honduras that are somewhat hard for me. They stretch me, partly because they are very closely related to parts of the culture that I don’t understand – and at times don’t appreciate.

Last Thursday was the feast of Saint Augustine and so I went to San Agustín for their Mass. The church was full and it was good to see people I know. I also found the shrine to Saint Augustine delightful - the statue was placed in front of an image of the church.

After Mass there was a special event including the crowning of the queen for the festival. There was a stage and a mesa principal ­– the table of honor. I thought I had escaped being called to sit there – but at the last minute I was called up. I was first seated right in front of the speaker, but someone noticing my distress (I had a headache already) moved me to the other side of the table. So there I was in front of the crowd.

Some children were dressed up in dresses and suits – last year’s queen and her cortege and this year’s, together with two little guys with wooden machetes who served as the guards of honor at the edge of the stage.

In the course of the events, the queen was crowned, with her attendant at her side – both little kids. I don’t quite get this.

The town’s Catholic folk dance group, El Quetzal, performed a few dances, which was a delight.

After the events, there was a lunch for me and Padre German.

But one event at Mass, though uncomfortable, was really a sign of what faith can be.

There's a mentally unstable woman in San Agustín who occasionally comes to the church and will loudly pray, very loudly - even in the midst of Mass. During Mass, Padre German spoke directly to her and even hugged here, before the congregation. He asked her to be quiet during the rest of the Mass which she was. 

She did get onto the stage during the events after Mass but was gently escorted off. 

The lack of social services for the mentally disturbed doesn't prevent them from being loved and treated with a degree of respect. 

Yesterday, the coffee cooperative in EL Zapote de Santa Rosa had a fundraising event – a Carrera de Cintas: a horse riding event in which the rider try to grab a ring with a pencil-like wooden stick.

The “rings” on the rope across the road

Inspecting the rings

Some of the riders

Each time a rider got a ring he was awarded a kerchief by one of the “queens” – who just happened to be some of the young women in the Maestro de Casa middle school on El Zapote. 

After affixing the kerchief around the neck of the winner, there would often be a kiss on the cheek.

One guy was particularly gallant – as he knelt to receive the kerchief.

A friend told me that previously the women had embroidered sashes for the winners and would place these over their shoulders.

The competition started about noon, though it was supposed to start at 10 am. Delays of people coming from San Agustín and other distant places, plus a shower, put off the starting time. It ended at about 4 pm, delayed for about 15 minutes because of a heavy downpour.

Riding to catch a ring in the rain
But they finished up in the rain and the three winners were given the prizes, which included horse vitamins.

The winner
There were a few things that were a little uncomfortable – the young women as awarding prizes together with a kiss was one. The other was seeing two of the riders with pistols – one stuck in the back of his pants.

But I felt very pleased to see that the coffee cooperative had taken the initiative to raise funds for their work, not just relying on help from outside.

Over all, I was glad to be at both events. They will recognize me and those who know me will see that I took the time to be with them. I hope I hid my discomfort or that they just thought that’s the way the crazy gringo is.

More photos of the San Agustín celebration can be found here.
More photos of the carrera de cintas can be found here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Busy weeks

Even though I haven’t written much this month about my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy.

About 108 catechists attended one of the four catechists workshops we had in the four different zones of the parish. They shared what they were doing in their villages – with limited resources and, often, with not enough catechists.

Catechists' training
I knew that there were three groups of young people meeting. There are about three others in the works – and perhaps we’ll be able to help other communities work toward more youth groups.

However, we are trying to avoid the idea of mere “youth groups.” The idea is that the young people would form their own base communities of young people, with youth leadership. I have suggested that we have a few training sessions for four young leaders from each community where there is interest and some organization. What is critical in my mind is that we have young people as the leaders. The catechists and delegates of the Word should accompany and assist the youth – but not be the ones responsibility for the group.

Padre German has asked me to see what we can do toward this – finding or preparing materials, finding people to help us with training sessions. I’ll be busy.

I’ve also attended the parish council meeting as well as the meetings of the councils in two zones.

I’ve also been monitoring the work on the house in Plan Grande. The roof should be on in a few days.

One beam for the roof in place.
 I also attended the meeting of the small coffee farmers cooperative in El Zapote de Santa Rosa. They chose a name “Cooperativa Café Hacia El Futuro” – Cooperative Coffee toward the future. They prepared a list of needs and I am assisting them in looking at places where they might find help.

Four members of the cafe producers' coop
I also had to take a trip to Tegucigalpa – about 5 hours away in car – to get a new residence card. Though I have a permit fro five years of residency (ending in 2017) I have to get a new card each year.

I dreaded the trip. I don’t like Tegucigalpa; there are often long waits in the migration office; and its two to four days away.

I decided to drive, but to cut off one hour by staying Monday night in Gracias with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters.

I arrived at the Migration Office about noon. I got my form, paid my fee (about $20), and went back to wait to be seen by a migration worker. I waited a few minutes and a very friendly woman saw me, took my fingerprints and photo. she told me that I would have the card at 1:30 pm, that day. I was amazed.

Of course, it didn’t arrive at 1:30 – but at about 1:50. That’s the shortest time I’ve ever spent there – less than two hours.

I then decided to get out of Tegucigalpa and head home – figuring I’d have to stay the night some where between Siguatepeque and Gracias.

But I got lost in Tegucigalpa – which is a confusing city. I thought I knew the way out – follow CA5 north. However, the roads are not well marked and the map I had was very poor. So I wandered, lost, in Teguz for about an hour. I asked at six gasoline stations and got directions, but I was confused.

Finally I made it out of Teguz and stayed the night in Siguatepeque. 

The trip back was rewarded by some amazing views in the Jesús de Otoro valley.

Rice field near Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá, Honduras
The next two weeks are not as busy as the previous ones, though I’ll visit a number of communities and take video’s of the cooperative’s fundraiser on August 30 – a horse race. José wants me to put the videos on the internet!

September, though, should be busy.

Padre German has asked me to work with the catechists and the liturgical ministry in each place where we will have confirmations – all seven of them.

There is also a meeting of the delegates of the word, where I’ll help in the formation.

I will also try to connect with some of the youth group leaders as well as try to find good material for youth – as well as for First Communion.

And I’ll have to monitor the building project as it winds down.

In all this, I continue to feel as if this is where God wants me to continue my ministry – and living out in the countryside will help.