Friday, February 27, 2015

A rant: no one is paying attention

Every so often someone here complains about Hondurans as being passive or fatalistic. Often I hear church people complaining that the people don’t want to take responsibility. A few people I know tell me that you have to repeat things over and over again so that the people get it.

There is a little truth to this, but it needs to be thought through.

First of all, some people who say these things really believe that many or most Hondurans are irresponsible and let things happens – out of personal laziness or irresponsibility.  It’s a national character flaw in their minds.

I’ve seen some of this. Things go wrong and nobody does anything to correct it. A toilet overflows and it feels that everyone if waiting for someone to come from outside and fix it. I’ve encountered professionals who do not return e-mails or phone calls.

But sometimes, especially among the rural poor and those who work in the church, this might be due to the way that people are approached. If we come with all the answers, why ask questions. If we come only to criticize or show them the right way, why should someone take the initiative; the powerful have the answers and if we contradict them they might not like it and stop helping us

But I really think there’s something even more basic.

It came to me this morning when I read a passage from Exodus 6:9 in the Vigils readings in Benedictine Daily Prayer:
…they wouldn’t listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery. (NRSV translation)
The Tanahk translation is revealing:
…they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.
I shared this with Padre German this morning because I think that some of the problems we face in ministry – and in other aspects of life here in western Honduras – come from the crushed spirits of the people who are live in cruel bondage.

The governments and political parties promise them many things – but poverty, powerlessness, and violence continue. Non-governmental organizations promise to help them, but some provide some help in order to increase their funding from abroad, others do it bringing in their own agendas, without really hearing the people.

Yes, there are some good changes and good programs, but still the overall atmosphere is one where promises are broken – and so people stop dreaming.

Their hearts are also broken, I feel, when aid is brought in without helping the people to take their lives in their own hands. For the most part, they’ll wait for the government to fix a road full of potholes, rather than doing something themselves. Or, in a case I know of, a village waited for the city hall to provide funds to fix the house of an older couple (parents and grandparents of about half the village) rather than work together to enlarge the house by making adobe bricks that cost nothing.

Their hearts are broken by those who seek to keep the people dependent – the political parties, some non-governmental organizations, some groups in the church.

There hearts are broken by the failure to provide meaningful education for the young. I have encountered many young people who have not finished grade school and there are even young people who can nether read nor write. My guess is that some dropped out because the education was so poor.

But much of this brokenness is due to the cruel bondage, almost slavery, of the people who endure poor wages and poor prices for their crops, who pay high interests on loans for the fertilizer for their crops, who cannot find land to plant because large landowners have hoarded land for their large coffee plantations and pastures for their cattle. 

This is slavery and people often feel there is no way out.

And so they become fatalistic, they do not seem to listen to those who come with a word that might help them organize to change.

They are like the people who would not listen to Moses, because their hearts have been broken by the cruel system of slavery and bondage.

But, in the midst of this, I still have hope.

I know that God did finally liberate the people from their slavery and they slowly – all too slowly – began to be a people.

But I also have hope because I see signs in the people I work with.

There was the young man concerned about rumors that two catechumens he knows were living with their boyfriends. I had a long chat with him that ranged from suggestions on how to respond pastorally to them to a discussion about sex and marriage!

There are the catechists who are learning how to pray in different ways and recognize that the example we used was meant to help them move to a pray that does not center on me, that looks at the needs of others.

There is the young catechist in his village where eleven couples are preparing to be married in the church.

He also works with the community of youth which is using the scheme the parish has proposed for base communities. I told him I was concerned that the youth community was not connecting with the village church council. He set me straight. They want to but are discouraged by the council’s failure to start on time – sometime not starting until 60 or 90 minutes after the official starting time. They told the council that they would come when the meetings start on time. They are demanding responsibility.

There are other examples that I have shared here and that I will continue to share. But I think we have to see how difficult some of this is – when the environment and the cultural, religious, political, and social structures do not give courage, but at times stifle the spirit.


But, most of all, we need to maintain and encourage hope!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Workshops, tomatos, and accepting gifts

This week I have two workshops with catechists. This is always a challenge and usually a delight.

Tuesday, I decided to start the meeting with a different style of prayer. First, I had everyone introduce themselves, telling where they are from. Then, I asked them to go around the circle and pray for the person at their right. I started.

It worked well and they really liked it. They had never done a prayer like that before!  I encouraged them to use it with the children and youth they work with.

Then we did a shortened lectio divina on the Lord’s Prayer. I read it slowly. I encouraged them to focus on the word or phrase that touched them and, if they wanted, to repeat it slowly in silence (and then come back to it during the day.) After about ten minutes I asked them to go around the circle and share the word or phrase.

It was touching.

Today, I had nothing to do in any of the villages and I had to wait for two people to come – only one showed. But it was a productive day - with a beautiful that I almost missed.  


But I spent the morning washing clothes since it was warm and sunny. I also made spaghetti sauce.

Yesterday, Santos from the neighboring village gave me a large bag of tomatoes. I know he was cultivating tomatoes and told him I’d like to buy a few. So what does he do? He gives me about 35 really nice tomatoes. 

Last night I made a plate of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese (made in Honduras), imported olives and olive oil, basil from the pot on my terrace, and a slice of whole wheat bread, made by the Central American/Mexican company Bimbo. Yes, Bimbo is the name of the company!



Today it was spaghetti sauce. That’s tomorrow’s meal after I get back from the catechists‘ workshop in a neighboring village.

Today has been good, though there have been two little frustrations, including the internet! But a gorgeous sunset made up for all that.

Gratitude and patience are the two virtues I need to nurture this Lent.

Gratitude is rather easy since life here is good, the warm weather is beginning, and the views are incredible.

And there’s also the generosity of the people.

Santos would not let me give him any money for the tomatoes.

A few days ago I asked Isaías, a twenty-year old neighbor, if he had any dulce de panela. Since his father’s death last year he’s been doing the sugar cane processing for the family’s sugar cane fields. He sends the sugar to Santa Rosa to be sold.

The other night he and a friend stopped by with the dulce. I asked him how much. He refused to take anything. This is to the first time he has refused money. He helped me with some things around the house and he refused the money I wanted to give him.


It is hard to really accept the generosity of the poor – but a grateful response is really essential to develop a spirituality of service and accompaniment.

I am to here to give – I am here to be with the people. That means receiving and giving, sharing and accepting without thinking of paying back.


That’s often a hard lesson – but critical.

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ADDENDUM:

A friend from Ames, Jane Misara, on reading the post, wrote on Facebook: "... it makes a person feel rich when they can share what they have."

I never thought to it that way but I think she is right. Even more, in the moment of sharing they show their "richness".


Sunday, February 22, 2015

The young are elected

I almost lost it this morning at Mass in Dulce Nombre. 

This is the first Sunday of Lent and the parish was celebrating the rite of acceptance of the catechumens who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil. 

About 96 young people from 21 towns and villages came – some in busses, some packed in pick ups, some walking. 

They have been in a formation process since last August, run by catechists in their villages. The quality of the formation is varied and the motivations for these mostly young people (over 14 years of age) are probably mixed. But I found it moving as they came forward and placed a card with their name on it in baskets, before the altar. I found myself close to tears. I had met some of them in November when they entered the catechumenate and I work with their catechists. 




One of the moist amazing tales is of the eight young people from Torera, a village that had no religious formation ever until this year. Now each Sunday a group comes from a nearby village for a Celebration of the Word and the formation of the catechumens. Real mission territory. I’ve been there twice – with the people from Plan Grande which is one of the communities that sends its “missionaries” to evangelize this almost abandoned village.

There are other villages. Granadillal arrived late. The bus they were on broke down and they had to seek other transportation – but they made it at nearly the last moment.

Padre German offering the names of the elect
After the rite, the catechumens – now called the elect – left the church to spend a short time together with me and other catechists.

As I did last year, I reflected on how Jesus had been tempted. We are all tempted. That is not sinful. But we need God’s help lest we “fall into temptation,” and the Spanish translation of the Lord’s Prayer puts it.

I had them write or draw a temptation and then they put the papers on the floor in the shape of the Cross to help them realize how Christ crucified and risen helps us resist and overcome temptation.


It was surprising, again, to realize how many of these young people cannot write.

Days like today give me hope and help me continue to long to serve these people even more.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent and the last month

Lent has begun here in Honduras – to overcast skies and some rain today.

In the parish, Ash Wednesday was different this year. Padre German had a Mass at 9:30 am (or so) in Dulce Nombre and had asked all the villages to send the person who would lead the Celebration of the Word in their village. After Mass they took ashes back to their villages.

I was supposed to take ashes and communion to two of the most remote villages. On the way out, in Candelaria, I heard a strange noise in the car and the dashboard lights came on. The one that most alarmed me was the light indicating that the battery was not re-charging. I did not want to get stuck in Debajiados or San Marcos Pavas with a dead battery.

I went to a mechanic in Dulce Nombre  who diagnosed it as the alternator – not the T-belt, as I had feared. But he couldn’t repair it and suggested I take the alternator to Santa Rosa – 30 minutes away. I went and had the alternator reconditioned. It cost a pretty penny.

Interestingly Rueben, the Dulce Nombre mechanic, was wearing a Nebraska beat Iowa t-shirt! (I hope it was the University of Iowa!)




However, I could not get to the villages and returned to Plan Grande at about 5:45 pm. I had a light dinner in the darkness since the lights were out (due to a truck taking down a light pole in Santa Rosa at 8 am).

Gloria had invited me to their celebration and when I got there asked me to preside at the celebration and give the reflection. The congregation was small due, I think, to the lack of light. People sometimes fear to leave their homes at night.

The lights finally came on this morning at 10:50 am.

The few weeks before Ash Wednesday have been rather full.

I accompanied Padre German to a number of communities where there were, in total, about 100 baptisms.

I helped facilitate two workshops for leaders of base communities from two zones of the parish and two workshops on liturgy from two other zones.

I accompanied the Eucharistic ministers in their monthly meeting.

But I’ve been spending a lot of time working on materials.

We have materials for baptism of infants, of kids between 7 and 13, and of catechumens (14 and older) as well as materials for confirmation. Now I’m working on materials for first communion – a year long program. I have about half of the themes finished and will distribute to the catechists at their training sessions in the coming two weeks.

But what has been really fun working on is the material for base communities. An idea of the diocesan social ministry was to have one saint of charity for each month, as a way to celebrate the Year of Charity in the diocese.

The materials they had prepared were very poorly prepared – mostly copy/paste. Padre German asked me to prepare stuff for our parish (and its 150 or so base communities).

I mostly used the Spanish translation of his incredible book All Saints.  The translation is really poor but it still helped me having to write all the material in Spanish – and making thousands of errors.

As usual, my approach is distinctive – with scriptural readings and questions for discussions in order to help the base communities relate the scripture and the saints to their daily lives.

Here are the saints for the rest of the months of this year:

March – Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero (of El Salvador)
April – Saint Brother Pedro of Guatemala
May – Saint Isidore the Farmer and his wife, Santa Maria
June – Saint Anthony of Padua
July – Saint Isabel of Portugal
August – Saint Rose of Lima (Peru)
September – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
October – Saint Francis of Assisi
November – Saint Martin de Porres (Peru)
December – Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego

Other works are still in process. It’s so good to be here, living in the midst of the parish.

Next Sunday we'll have about 100 catechumens participating in the rite of election in the parish. Another example of the good work of our catechists.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A glimpse of daily life

Today I spent all day in Plan Grande, working on various projects – and trying to get warm. But I stopped out in mid-morning to get some air and to see what was happening in the village.

I had heard a nearby mill that pressed sugar cane to extract the juice. I went to see if Isaías was processing sugar cane. He was there, working over the container that is use to boil the sugar cane juice to produce the raw sugar that he’ll sell later this week. We talked a bit and I warmed myself by the boiling cane juice.


I went back later and took this picture of the house where I live.


A few weeks ago I was in Dulce Nombre and stopped at the house of Isaías’ sister. His brother-in-law was working with some other men in his yard making horseshoes, one of Dulce Nombre’s major products.


I also see people involved in the coffee harvest. Up the road the mayor's sons are often processing the coffee beside their house. These days I’m also encountering a lot of people going or coming from the coffee harvest. Sometimes it’s a small group but at times there are a hundred or so people (including kids) crammed into a truck.

One of the joys of now living in the countryside is seeing the daily life of the people and accompanying them.

I think they also find it interesting to see this crazy gringo.

Today while making a salad a few guys who were waiting for pre-baptismal talks in the church meeting hall next door watched as I cut up the vegetables.

At times this can be challenging, especially when kids make a game of peering into windows on all sides of the house. Sunday night I was a little upset and was a little harsh with two kids, asking them not to be always peering into the house. About an hour later they arrived with eight plantains. I don’t know if it was a peace offering or what, but that’s part of living here.