Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Two weeks in July

Two weeks have gone by since I wrote about my life here in the parish. Tuesday night I decided to write something. The electric went off and so I wrote with battery power and decided to revise and post when the electricity and the internet return. The internet didn’t return, but I’m sending this from Dulce Nombre.

“What do you do each day?” some people continue to ask me. But there is no regular day in this ministry. There are planned events but there much depends on the needs of the people.

It is still raining often, but the days are usually hot and sunny and so the roads are passable – though I came across a landslide this morning.

I have had training for catechists in the zones of the parish. This is a lot of fun and it challenges me – to find ways to help them reach the young people.

But one of the joys have been teaching them how to read the scriptures using different methods. One is a form of Ignatian contemplation in which they place themselves in the situation and pay attention to their senses and feelings; the other is a form of lectio divina in which I have them listen silently and attentively to a reading and, when a word or a phrase strikes them, to stay with the word and pray with it.

I also have been teaching them a few new icebreakers. Some of the groups are more open to these and really get into them. There’s one I have been using at the beginning of the workshops that has them laughing and smiling – a real icebreaker.

I’ll have two more sets of meeting with catechists this year. Next year I’m thinking of trying to have a more systematic approach to the workshops.

I’ve met with youth leaders once last month and hope to meet with several of the groups that are meeting in about nine places in the parish. One of the difficulties I see them having is retention. I really have to get some help. Also, finding times to get the leaders together has been difficult. Many of the young people either work or study on the weekends.

I have continued to accompany our pastor, Padre German, for at least one Sunday Mass and, when I can, to a few Masses during the week. Most of the time he has me preach – to give him a break from his four or five Masses every Sunday.

I got a taste of his Sunday workout a few weeks ago. He was gone for a national congress on the family and he asked me to lead Celebrations of the Word with Communion in three municipal centers. It was a workout – not just preaching but also presiding and distributing Communion. I was exhausted after three Celebrations. He called me late in the afternoon and told me that he would get back in time for the seven o’clock Mass in Dulce Nombre. Thank God.

I’ve had one funeral, which we celebrated in the home – partly because the church was being painted. The house was right beside the church. The people had asked for the service in the house. I was a little reluctant at first but changed my mind when I was the church. My concern is that it is important to see that the service is a commendation of the deceased on the part of the church. As he or she was received in the church at Baptism, we want to send the body of the deceased from the church. I decided that a way to show this would be to bring the Paschal Candle to the house and put it by the coffin.

This past Sunday I baptized a young woman at Mass after a few hours of intense discussion with people over a delicate situation. Ministry can be quite complicated.

After Mass I went with Padre German as he anointed and gave Communion to a 92 year-old man who is probably near death. One of his sons held his father in his arms, so that he could sit up in bed. I marveled at the gentleness of the son who was visibly moved during our time there. It was also very apparent that the old man felt cared for – especially as his son held him.

Last Saturday I had my introduction to another aspect of my diaconal ministry – interviewing witnesses and couples before marriage. Padre German had me sit in as he did the interview. It is daunting but I think I know what to do. Already I have three couples whom I’ll be interviewing with their witnesses.

For many years I have been preparing materials for the parish – and beyond. I am working with two young priests to prepare materials for next year for the base communities, based on the Sunday readings. We met at my house to begin the process. It was great to be able to work with two fine young priests – who enjoyed my lentil soup.

After Padre German got back from the Conference on the Family, he was intent on doing something more on the family. So he called a meeting for the missionaries in the parish, whose who had gone on mission to other villages in the past year, to have them organize pastoral outreach to families in their own villages for the month of August, which here is celebrated as the month of the family. And he asked me – on Monday – to prepare a presentation on Pope Francis’ exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, for Friday. After two days of prayer, study, and reading, I pulled together something. It wasn’t as participative as I like, but I tried to capture the spirit and the spirituality of Pope Francis on the family.

Last Monday, I went to La Entrada for a meeting of some clergy who will be forming a Reflection Group to meet and look at the situation of the diocese and the country – partly on the social, political, and economic situation.

I took advantage of my trip to spend a few hours with the Franciscan sisters in La Entrada. It was great to have a long talk with Sister Nancy, especially sharing some of the challenges I see with some of the people here. It is so good to have good friends to help me work through ministry questions and challenges. It also helps that we speak in English.

I continue to find life here in Plan Grande to be a blessing. The community is open and I enjoy talking with people – and kidding around with the kids and young people – often greeting them as I drive to a meeting. Here are some children dressed for the celebration of Lempira, the indigenous leader killed by the Spaniards.

My little prayer space is a real sanctuary of quiet – a place to gather strength, especially in the quiet of the morning.

And the views from the house continue to amaze me – God’s creation is a real blessing and refreshes my heart - even as I watch the rain clouds approaching.

There is much more that I could write, but I’ll stop here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Marriage in Honduras - part two

My recent post on marriage provoked an interesting discussion. I am glad. But today I read on Tiempo Digital, which I am assuming is a legitimate source, that marriage might now be much more difficult and expensive for most people.

The article laid out the requirements for marriage, which was helpful for me. My translation follows:
1.     Photocopy of the identity cards of those contracting marriage. (Birth certificate is they are under 21 years of age.)
2.     Photocopy of the identity card of two witnesses older than 21 years of age who know how to read and write, and present their original identity [cards]. (They may be relatives.)
3.     Birth certificates of those contacting marriage. Their names must match exactly the ones that appear on the identity [card].
4.     Recent record of Civil State or being single.
5.     Pregnancy test if pregnant.
6.     Original birth certificates of the children, when they are [the children] of both parties. 
7.     Evidence of criminal record.
8.     Evidence of relationship from the National Registry of Persons.

The National Registry of Persons will, starting September, demand a marriage certificate which will cost 5,000 lempiras – about $213. 3,000 goes to the notary and 2,000 will go to the College of Lawyers (the lawyers association, as I understand it) and an entity called the pension institute.

To compare this to the reality. The minimum wage in Honduras is determined according to the industry and the number of employees in the firm. An agricultural worker in a small firm should get between 5,899.79 lempiras per month, whereas those who work in the firms which employ over 151 workers should get 6,848.15. Those who have the highest minimal wage scale are those in banks and financial institution who should get between 8,351.82 and 10,168.45 lempiras, depending on the size of their place of employment.

But note what the World Bank has posted on its website:
Honduras is a low middle-income country that faces major challenges, with more than 66 percent of the population living in poverty in 2016, according to official data. In rural areas, approximately one out of 5 Hondurans live in extreme poverty, or on less than US$1.90 per day.
The barriers to marriage here are rising, perhaps putting civil marriage beyond the resources of most of the population.

I hope the church will find a way to respond.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Marriage in Honduras

This is a reflection that had been going on in the back of my mind for years and I am a bit reluctant to share my concerns. But I think it’s time for me to write something. I recognize that I am writing from the perspective of a non-Honduran, seventy-year old celibate who is still very culturally from the US. But I will dare to share my thoughts, hoping that others can help me think through these concerns.

As I visit the communities throughout the parish, I have found myself by the small number of people married in the church. I also am surprised that there are so many who are not married civilly, even though they’ve lived together for several years and have children. In face of this I keep encouraging people to get married in the church.

But it’s not all that simple.

First of all, I wonder if there really is a culture of marriage and the sacrament of matrimony in the villages. How many young people grow up with single parents or with parents who are not married either civilly or in the church?

There are also the costs of getting married civilly. You have to get married civilly before you can get married in the church. The costs could run to the equivalent of one hundred dollars.

There are also the expectations among some that a church wedding has to be a big affair – and therefore costly.

There are also concerns about commitments and whether they’ll be able to live up to them (and if the man will be faithful). The ideal of marriage is set very high and there does not seem to be a realistic sense of the ways that couples and families can really deal with conflict, complaints and so forth. The presence of significant domestic violence bears witness to this.

Seeing couples breaking up can be another disincentive.  

What I do see happening all too often is two people just getting together. At times, there is a child on the way, but not always.

Recently, according to an article I read, the Honduran Congress just raised the marriage age to eighteen and abolished the possibility of young people getting married if they were sixteen and had their parent’s permission.
Belinda Portillo from children's charity Plan International said Honduras had “made history” by passing the law in a country where one in four children are married before the age of 18. “The fight against child marriage is a strategic way of promoting the rights and empowerment of women in various areas, such as health, education, work, freedom from violence…”  
I don’t think this is good.

Am I wrong or jaded?

The problem is not that, until now, the law permitted marriage under eighteen with parental consent. though the person had to be sixteen.

A new law will not stop young people cohabiting before they are eighteen. They just won't be able to be legally married. 

What is the problem? Why do I see so few couples married?

As I see it, there is not a culture of marriage in many places. A macho culture may also be responsible for part of this. Lack of decent formation in sexuality is lacking.

In addition, n many places, there is nothing to do after sixth grade. Jobs, outside of work on the farm or seasonal work on the coffee harvest, are hard to find.

Even if there is a law that mandates education till ninth grade, how many kids drop out of school even before finishing sixth grade. The other day in one village, talking with kids, three ten-year olds told me that they had dropped out of school in the second or third grade. The common complaint was boredom.

There are classes up to sixth grade in almost every village, at least around here. But in one zone of the parish there is only one place where “educación básica” – the equivalent of middle school – is offered during the week. There is one weekend program. But there are villages where there is no “middle school” within thirty minutes walking distance and there is very limited public transportation. Yes, there are families who value education and see that their children get middle school and even high school education. But these young people often have to go to Santa Rosa – more than an hour away with a significant bus fare.  

To be truthful, there are families that do not value education, especially for girls. They want the young people to help the family by working in the fields or in the house. 

There are other families that make major efforts for the education of their children or grandchildren.

I am a strong advocate of education for young people, but I realize the problems here.

I also am an advocate of marriage. But the challenge is the lack of preparation for adolescence and adulthood among the young people. And sexual education? I once asked a few of the youth group leaders about this. In the schools, it’s about avoiding diseases (and pregnancy). Catechists and religious leaders in the communities seldom speak about sexuality – and most often it’s in terms of what not to do. But there seems to be almost no formation in emotional development.

What do I do? I encourage people living together with children to get married. I see a good number of them who come to the Masses or Celebrations of the Word and, of course, don't receive communion.

I also encourage young men I know who are in relationships to respect the young women and, with those whom I think trust me, I even advise them, mischievously, “Keep your zipper zipped up.”

But more needs to be done, especially among the young. We need to find ways to promote healthy relationships among the young before and during marriage.

A law prohibiting marriage of 17 year olds even with parental permission looks good – but I fear this will not help. I think it may only discourage marriages.

What do you think?