Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Threats in Honduras

May 3 is celebrated in various Latin American countries as the Day of the Cross. In El Salvador and Guatemala many erect shrines (often outside) of the Cross, decorated by flowers.

Today is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the killing of the catechist Felipe Huete and four others in El Astillero, Honduras. They were killed for seeking land for poor campesinos.

In response, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos and representatives to the national team for the Celebration of the Word issued a document where they note:

“The biblical texts chosen by Felipe [Huete] for the celebration [for May 3, entitled ‘From Injustice to Justice’] touched directly on his own situation. On the one hand he was inspired by the tremendous hope of owning land, not only for himself (Gen. 15:18 and Matt. 5: 1-4). On the other hand, he experienced the strength Christians feel in the midst of persecution and threats from the colonel’s bodyguards: ‘I say to you, my friends, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body and can do no more. I tell you whom you should fear — fear the one who after killing has the power to cast you into hell. Yes, I repeat, fear that one.’”

Their killings weren’t the first, nor were they the last.

In 1975, two priests and six oithers, the martyrs of Los Horcones, were killed in Juticalpa, Olancho, Honduras.

At the beginning of March, Berta Cáceres was murdered for her advocacy of the indigenous Lenca and their defense of creation, especially a river threatened by plans to build a large dam.

Recently a priest of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán and others in the parish of Macuelizo received death threats for their opposition to a mining project.

A prominent opposition journalist, Felix Medina, was shot yesterday and is now hospitalized – the most recent of many persecuted journalists.

There are many others who have been killed or suffered persecution for their advocacy of the poor, against injustice, impunity, and corruption, especially in the last few years.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Servant of the mission of liberation

As I began to discern the bishop’s suggestion that I become a candidate for the permanent diaconate here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, one passage from the Second Vatican Council stood out, from “The Decree on the Missionary Activity on the Church,” paragraph 16:

Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life, according to the norms of the Constitution on the Church. For there are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon’s office, either by preaching the Word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar. Thus they can carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.

Isn’t this what I am doing? I felt a call to ask for the grace of the sacrament – to better serve God’s people here.

A few month ago I read a few essays that Karl Rahner had written about the permanent diaconate in the early 1960s. In “On the Diaconate,” he argues for the restoration of the permanent diaconate, noting that there are already persons performing the office of deacon, without being ordained.

…the diaconate already exists de facto in an anonymous form in the Church of today. In these circumstances, it is right that those who are already vested with this anonymous diaconate should also have the sacramental commission conferred upon them, because in principle it is possible for there to be a sacramental diaconate in the Church, and such a sacramental commission is reasonable and productive of grace.
“On the Diaconate,”  p, 199

In another essay, “The Theology of the Restoration of the Diaconate,” p, 189

what we are asking here is whether in our Church of the present day the office of deacon is de facto being performed. If, and to the extent that we have to answer this question in the affirmative, or if and to the extent that we have to say that it is absolutely necessary for there to be such an office, given the circumstances of the present day, then this office is to be set up. And if an individual is already suitable for this office, then it seems to me to be necessary on theological grounds that grace should be conferred upon him, which does exist in the Church precisely for the official functions that he is de facto performing.

I thought I had read most of the really significant for the passages on the diaconate from church documents. Yet last Wednesday, sitting in a clinic waiting for a doctor’s appointment, reading Alberto Villegas Betancourt’s  Diácono Permanente: Quién es y qué hace, I came across this quote from the final document of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference meeting in 1979 at Puebla, Mexico, paragraph 697:

The deacon, collaborator of the bishop and the priest, receives his own specific sacramental grace. The charism of the diaconate, a sacramental sign of “Christ the servant,” is very effective in bringing about a poor, servant Church, that exercises its missionary function for the integral liberation of the human being.

Can God work through me, bringing us to be a poor, servant Church? Can God work through me for integral liberation of al God’s people?

I sometimes have my doubts.

 If, as planned, I am ordained on July 9, may God give me the sacramental grace to be such a missionary – at the service of the Word, the Altar, and the Poor.

Father Dan - prophet and poet of outraged and outrageous love

There are lots of prophets, outraged at injustice – many of them acerbic and angry. There are a few poets who really touch the heart. But it is rare to find a prophet-poet.

The Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan  who died last Saturday was  one of these.

In my work for justice and peace I have encountered many angry people who are outraged at injustice. They are, many times, overwhelmed by their anger and attack anyone who doesn’t totally agree with them. I have been on the receiving end of such anger any number of times. It comes from left, right, center. But the driving force is anger.

Today I read in a Facebook message of Jim Forest that Fr. Dan used the phrase “outraged love.”

I have encountered some people who really exhibit this “outraged love” who respond to persons with love, even in the midst of serious conflict. They are overcoming hate and injustice with love and a desire for reconciliation.

I recall a young man whom I know since he was an undergraduate at Iowa State University and I was in campus ministry. He was an advocate of Palestinians – partly because his mother was a Palestinian whose family fled their home during the Nakba, when his mother was less than a year old. He was also an advocate of peace – partly because of a grandfather who had worked for peace all his life. What I remember of him is his efforts to cross borders, to dialogue with supporters of Israel. He has a passion for people – and is now living in Palestine with his family, teaching at a university.

I think Father Dan would have loved spending time with my friend. What they have in common is a lack of ideological narrowness and rigidity. Outrage doesn’t lead to hate or anger – but to creative love.

I suspect that Fr. Dan could do this because he was not only a prophet but also a poet – one who could see beyond caricatures and see the creativity that God has given people. His reflections on various books of the bible are exercises in creative encounters with God through the scriptures.

I met Fr. Dan several times – at a retreat at Kirkridge Retreat Center in the late 1970s, at various events in the 1980s. I have read a good number of his books. Though some might find him a bit naïve, I think he saw things in a different light, a light that can illumine the darkness of our age.

In the late 1960s I bought a poster of Fr. Dan that included this quote:

Don’t just do something; stand there.

Don’t just get involved in causes, demonstrations, civil disobedience. Rather, BE there; accompany the people; accept the consequences with them. But above all, love them with an “outrageous love.”

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Where am I called to be?

Come over to Macedonia and help us.
Act 16:9

Ten years ago, in May 2016, I made a trip to Honduras that led to my presence here.

The event that actually precipitated this move was a trip to New Orleans in March, 2016, with fifteen people from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames to help in the clean-up after Hurricane Katrina.

This experience led me to consider something “more” in my life. I had worked for almost 23 years in ministry at St. Thomas and had no plans of moving on – until the experience in New Orleans.
Following Sister Nancy, May 2006
In May, after a visit to El Salvador, I visited Sister Nancy Meyerhofer in Honduras. I have known her since about 1992 in El Salvador. I had been receiving her e-mailed reports on her presence in Honduras. I wrote and asked if there might be some way for me to help in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. She told me to come and talk with the bishop.

I ended up visiting Sister Nancy in Gracias for a few days. On Saturday we went to a rural village. But before going I had read the first reading for that day, Acts 16: 1-10.

Paul had been prevented by the Spirit from going to Bithynia and so found himself in Troy. There a Macedonian appeared to him in a vision at night and invited him:
Come over to Macedonia and help us.
I had been in El Salvador before I came to Honduras and had visited a site where there was an opening for a US worker. But something called me to Honduras, even though I had many connections to El Salvador (and still do.)

But that day in May 2006 I felt the call to be in Honduras.

After much prayer, discussions with my spiritual director and friends, and making arrangements in Ames to leave St. Thomas and sell my house, I found myself in Honduras on June 13, 2007.

Yesterday, I went in a bus with 62 other people from the parish of Dulce Nombre de María where I serve, to the diocesan youth gathering in Santa Bárbara. It was a long day but several parts of the day stand out.

The readings included the reading from Acts that I had heard almost ten years ago that ended up brining me here to Honduras.

After Mass and a procession to the Santa Bárbara church with the thousands of youth present, I came across the bishop.

He confirmed that, God willing, I will be ordained for the permanent diaconate in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, on July 9.

Another stage of my mission in life is to begin.
“Come over … and help us.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sister Rain

We are in the dry season with very hot temperatures and we’ve had no rain for quite some time – until last night.

Thunder and lightning preceded the rain – one lightning bolt striking very close to the house and surprising me as I was preparing dinner.

And then the rains came, in torrents. My rain water barrels filled up quickly and the earth soaked in the rain.

I always love a good rain during a hot day. You can feel the difference in the air.

But this time the rain unleashed the smell of my neighbor’s flowering trees. As I looked out, an incredible smell overwhelmed me, a smell that it is difficult to explain. The fragrance continues even this morning, delighting the senses.

The morning awakened to an intense fog that surrounded Plan Grande. 

As I sat and prayed, I noticed that there was condensation from the fog on some of the screens.

I sat at a different spot toe at breakfast and noticed that the fog was coming in the living room windows.

A little later the sun began to emerge, burning off the fog, promising another hot day.

But in the meantime the rain has nurtured the earth, unleashed fragrances, and refreshed my soul.

Blessed be Sister Rain.

Flowers in my garden