Friday, October 24, 2014

The campesino and "The Joy of the Gospel"

Recently it was reported that an Italian bishop had disparagingly said that Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, could have been written by a campesino.

I can think of no greater way to actually praise this work.

This merits a longer analysis but here are a few remarks remarks followed by a few quotes on the poor from that document which has over 60 references to the poor.

Concern for the poor is central to our faith in part because the Son of God came among us as a poor man and lived among the poor.
186. Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.
Therefore, we are called to become instruments of God’s liberating love with the poor:
187. Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid. A mere glance at the Scriptures is enough to make us see how our gracious Father wants to hear the cry of the poor…
But the poor also can teach us:
198. For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy”. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”. in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”. This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty”. This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.
That means that our sense of mission must include the poor as a priority, for they are “the privileged recipients of the Gospel.”
48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them.
Our selfish individualism closes us to God and to the poor:
2. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too.
But when we open ourselves to the poor and accompany them, we can experience their joys and their sufferings.
7. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to.
 193. We incarnate the duty of hearing the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others.
Yes, a campesino could have written it – or a follower of the Word made Flesh among campesinos, twenty centuries ago in Bethlehem.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The faces of an emergency

This morning it’s raining lightly in Santa Rosa.

The torrential rains on Tuesday night wreaked havoc on Honduras. As I noted in a previous post, Padre German and I experienced some of it in the village of Las Caleras, a village in the parish of Dulce Nombre. (The village is almost completely evangelical.)

Wednesday, before I left for Santa Rosa, I checked back in Las Caleras and visited the devastation near the turn off to Dolores.

At the side of the road I talked with a man who was standing there, watching some of the work being done to restore the road. He motioned to the coffee field behind him. The landslide had destroyed 1,000 coffee bushes which were full of berries which would have been picked in a few months.

Yesterday I went out to check on the house in Plan Grande. I got a call from Caritas asking me to investigate the needs of people, since the national office of Caritas has some mattresses and kitchen kits in a warehouse in Tegucigalpa.

So I stopped in Candelaria on my way back. I ended up visiting four sites where there was damage from the landslides caused by the torrential rain on Tuesday night.

The hill behind one house had fallen and a house at the bottom of the hill, though standing, had been evacuated. The family had relocated to the house of a friend. But they had only been able to retrieve four mattresses for the eleven family members.

I also visited the house at the side of the road that we had seen on Tuesday night where the wall had fallen in. A group was working on the hill, hoping to prevent future problems.

As I was about to leave I encountered Luis, a 79 year old man who lived with his 11 year old son. Yes. That’s what he told me. He also told me that he was partly blind and deaf. I did have to speak loudly and slowly to be heard, but he got around fairly well.

He had lost his house to a landslide. I went there and found a stick and mud house (called bahareque).

He had no place to go and was camping out in a house which is being repaired.

Then I went to Las Caleras, the site of our Tuesday night “adventure.”

The river was back to its original course but there was still a large puddle of mud in the road.

With the help of three young girls as guides, I visited several houses that had sustained serious damage. Clothes and mattresses were wet and mud-covered. A wall had fallen down in one house.

The last house I visited was a tin shack. I first talked with a few of the children there but finally the fifty-seven year old mother came by. Berta told me that 12 people lived there. I managed to get the names and ages of nine of the children (who were probably both children and grandchildren). What struck me was that all of them slept on the floor. They had no mattresses.

It was hard to see all this. But it was important for me to be reminded of the faces of the suffering.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rain, rain, go away

The dry season here was very long. It usually ends in May or June, but this year the rains didn’t begin in earnest until September. And it’s been raining incredibly hard on and off since then.

Yesterday I went with Padre German to two distant communities – Agua Buena  Concepción and Cerro Negro. We got a late start since there was a deanery  meeting in the morning. Mass at Agua Buena began at about 4:30 pm, but I did a presentation to the people starting at 4:00 pm on base communities and the triple ministry. During our time there, it rained so hard that I could hardly hear myself. 

When Mass was over we went to Cerro Negro and arrived there late; Mass began at 7:00 pm. Padre had me do a presentation after the Gospel. As I was finishing, the torrents came and we could do nothing for about 15 minutes. The noise was that loud. Padre sat in silence.

Finally Mass went on; we had dinner at a house nearby and left for Dulce Nombre – usually about 45 minutes from Cerro Negro.

Leaving Candelaria we saw a landslide on the right side of the road and some men standing there. We got out of the truck and went to see if we could pass. We could, but there had been a landslide on the left side of the road that took out the wall of a house.

We continued on. In Caleras we saw another landslide on the right side of the road, near a house.

Caleras is one of the poorest villages in the parish; it is also the village that is almost completely evangelical.

At the bottom of the hill in Caleras, near the evangelical church. where there is a crossroads, the road and small bridge were covered with water. Some guys told us we could pass and guided us – but we got stuck in the sand and the river that replaced the small stream.

Guys came out of the nearby houses and tried to push us out. We finally gave up. The twelve to fifteen young guys, with lots of testosterone, left.

Padre called and asked Marcia to see if there was some way to get a truck to pull us out. We sat back and waited.

However, the water was rising. We abandoned a car and went up to the porch of a poor house nearby – to seek some shelter with the pig and two dogs there.

The people in the house invited us in. They even offered us their only bed! Evangelical Hondurans offering a Guatemalan priest and a US missionary their beds. The generosity of the poor is amazing. 

After about half an hour we saw the lights of a car coming down the hill. It was the mayor with several policemen and a local reporter.

The mayor went and looked around the village, one of the poorest in the area. The water was almost knee deep in some places. We passed a house where the front wall had fallen.

But there was a lot of hidden damage. A young guy told me that about 6:30 pm the waters began rising rapidly and by 7:30 pm were inside many houses and the small evangelical church – which lost its instruments.

The water in one house had reached about two feet high – and that house was about 6 inches above the level of the road.

Note the water line.
The mayor’s truck finally pulled Padre’s car, which – thanks be to God – started.

We followed the mayor’s truck.

The police had told us that they had to cut some trees that had fallen in the road and blocked passage. We barely passed through one passage and saw some serious landslides.

The situation is still pretty precarious and I’m probably stuck in Dulce Nombre for another say. Padre lent me a pair of pants since my jeans were soaked (especially after I fell in the water!)

But the lives of the people are seriously affected. Some communities are incommunicado. Others have suffered major flooding. It will take some time for recovery.

This comes just a day after a major earthquake hit the region. I didn’t feel anything here but there was major damage to the road that goes to the Salvadoran border, near the village of El Portillo which sits on the continental divide.

Why has all this happened?

That’s another post but I’d suggest that some of the causes include climate change/global warming, poor practices of land management, cutting of coffee plants on hillsides, and cutting roads through hills and leaving cliffs without retention walls. This is not really a natural disaster - but one with human causes.

What’s the next step?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Holy Poverty

“Is there anyone here who has the dream of being poor?”

These are the words that began Padre German’s homily on Sunday in El Zapote de Santa Rosa.

The community was celebrating its patron saint, Francis of Assisi, on Sunday, since Padre German had gone to at least two other villages on October 4, the feast of St. Francis.

El Zapote de Santa Rosa Church

Padre German noted that Saint Francis did seek to be poor. He saw poverty as unfastening oneself from things. The Spanish word he used is “desprendimiento” which is sometimes translated as “detachment.” But I think, in the context of St. Francis, it might better be thought of as unfastening oneself.

We fear poverty, Padre German went on, for many reasons. We fear that no one will notice us or take us into account. We fear that we will die of hunger.

In the chapel of the Franciscan Sisters in Gracias 
I think I’d add that we want security, we want to have things our way and so we fear the insecurity of poverty. And so we seek to keep things – and getting more things to keep. An example Padre German gave was keeping clothes that we do not need or have outgrown or even keeping infant walkers even while the kids are 16 years old!

But Francis sought a Holy Poverty.

What was that?

First of all, I think it must be contrasted to what I’d call “perverse poverty,” the poverty which oppresses people, which keeps them down. It’s the poverty I see all around me, the poverty brought on by injustice, inequality, envy, and violence.

I think it must not be reduced to a spiritual poverty, where we only are detached in our minds from things. Nor should it be reduced to a poverty of solidarity.

For Francis, poverty was real. He didn’t go around with a backpack full of supplies. He insisted on working for his food and, when that wasn’t possible, begging.

He insisted on going out to the byways of the world, where people lived, and also to those marginal places, with lepers and other outcasts.

His poverty was real.

What does that mean for people like me?

It means not only solidarity, but also letting go and being concerned only about the necessary.

And what is the necessary here in western Honduras?

Being present to the people.

Being with them as they deal with poverty and violence.

Being with them as they begin little projects to make life better for them and their families.

Being with them and helping the world to see them in their joys and sorrows, in their successes and failures, in their struggles and pains.

What do I need to do this?


Presence with the people.


Over the altar in El Zapote, the people had placed three words that struck me as profound:

Francisco, hombre libre.
 Francis, a free man.

Francis was free to leave beyond all, including his social contacts, to live with his brothers in poverty, sharing the Good News with the poor.

Can I learn to be free like Francis?

Friday, October 03, 2014

More Confirmation photos

In Vega Redonda, October 3

En El Zapote de Santa Rosa, 3 de octubre