Sunday, May 15, 2016

Celebrating St Isidore and more

This year the feast of San Isidro Labrador – Saint Isidore the Farmer – falls on Pentecost Sunday. But patronal feasts are very important here and so there were some interesting ways we celebrating liturgies.

Saint Isidore, a farmer laborer from near Madrid, lived from 1070 to 1130. He is the patron of farmers, together with his wife, Saint Maria de la Cabeza, also known as Saint Turibia.

Interestingly Saint Isidore was canonized with a bunch of heavy weights - Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, and Philip Neri.

Here he is invoked by many farmers and usually his feast is accompanied by rains, though this year we are still waiting. It's been a very dry, hot year and there are fears of drought and water shortages, partly due to climate change and partly due to the destruction of the forests here - for the sake of financial gain.

But there is a refrain often used here: 
San Isidro, ponga la lluvia y quita el sol.
 Loosely paraphrased:
Saint Isidore, bring on the rains, and stop the raging sun.
On Saturday, Padre German celebrated Mass in the morning in San Isidro La Cueva. The night before they had a procession as well as a vigil until early in the morning. The Mass was simple and included blessing of seeds.

San Isidro La Cueva
On Sunday, today.we had Mass in Yaruconte, whose patron is Saint Isidore who is patron of the sector of the parish. People arrived and walked in procession from a soccer field to a farm building which had been prepared for Mass. We celebrated in what is a “trapiche” – a place where sugar cane is locally processed.  How appropriate.

Padre German, who I fear has been wearing himself out with numerous Masses, asked me to say a few words at each place. He has become very insistent on the necessity to care for the earth and to stop the burnings. 

I spoke briefly at each Mass.

What first strikes me about Saint Isidore is that he is a campesino, a farm laborer, who lived out his life of holiness, together with his wife, in the daily labors of a farmer. The people I work with are more like him than me. God helps us work out our holiness in our daily lives.

In many ways he lived out the first reading for his feast – from the first chapter of Genesis. I challenged the people to think about “dominating” in terms of working the land as the Lord (“Dominus,” in Latin) does – with tenderness. He cared for the land. In contrast I reminded the people of the quemas,  the burning of fields mostly to clear them for planting coffee. We ought to imitate Isidore’s care for the land.
Quema en El Raizal, on the way to San Isidor La Cueva
Secondly, Saint Isidore, though himself poor, welcomed the poor to his table. He also had a great love for all of God’s creation. I shared the story of how, one winter day, he opened his sack of wheat to share with some hungry birds. People made fun of him but when he got to the mill to grind his corn, the bag was full.

Lastly, I reminded the people that this care for the land, this love of the poor and al created beings, came from his love of God, his faith, his connection with God. (The Gospel was from the Last Supper where Jesus reminds his disciples that He is the vine and we are the branches and we need to continue to be connected with Him.) He went to daily Mass and he prayed as he worked. I reminded the people that we do need to come together for the Eucharist but we also can pray when we work. Indeed, our work can become a prayer.

New statue of San Isidro en la Cueva
It was good to be able to be with the people to celebrate these days.

The past few days have been busy – and some of it has been draining.

Friday, Padre German sent me to a village to see about a tragic event. A jilted boyfriend, jealous and vengeful, had chained the door of the room where his former girlfriend was sleeping with her two young children, another man, and two of her nephews. Then he set it on fire. The little children and the woman were in the hospital but the two young boys and her sister were there and we talked for a while. The boys were without a change of clothes and so I arranged some shirts and pants for them.  Sadly, the woman died this morning in a hospital in Tegucigalpa. The family still feels threatened, even though the police are looking for the arsonist. So they are having two groups of men from the village watch the house during the night.

This is a village that has suffered much this past year. There have been several cases of assaults with machetes or guns – mostly because of drug or alcohol abuse, as I was told.

There was also a tragic case where two young men were killed by military in the village and another young man unjustly imprisoned.

It was hard to be there but that is what we are about here – accompanying people n their joys and pains.

Lest you think I didn’t celebrate Pentecost, I took part in the Vigil we had in Dulce Nombre, from 6:30 to 10:30 pm on Saturday. First a bonfire, then a procession, then a Holy Hour, and then Mass (with five readings).

Needless to say I’m a bit tired, but the next two days are quite full.

St. Thomas Aquinas Coffee Committee is ready to receive about 3000 pounds of green coffee from the coffee association and we have to arrange to get it to the Beneficio that will process it this week. Finally, it will be on its way to Ames in June.

But I also have to try to contact the bishop to determine the date of my ordination as a permanent deacon for the diocese.

All this is before I leave for Newark on Wednesday for my pre-ordination retreat, which a friend helped arrange with the Office of the Diaconate in the Newark Archdiocese.

Life is not uncomplicated and full – but it is ever a joy.

¡Gracias a Dios!

I almost forgot one of the joys of Mass today. Two babies were presented to the people gathered for Mass in Yaruconte. Presentation of babies about forty days after their birth is a common custom here in the coutnryside.

¡Gracias a la Vida!

Looking out the church door in San Isidro La Cueva

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The smell of coffee (flowers) in the air.

I wish I could send smells through the internet.


The coffee fields are blooming and the flowers emit an incredible fragrance. The closest fragrance in the US is the smell of honey suckle.

Thus the fragrance evokes good memories of growing up in blue-collar suburban Philadelphia, in Darby. Our neighbors had a honeysuckle bush.

Today I walked to the parish coffee field which is here in Plan Grande. What a gorgeous sight and what incredible smells.

I also noted that a few of the madriago trees (Gliricidia sepium) which had been planted a few months ago were growing. They will provide some shade – as well as help counteract the deforestation going on around us.

I also noticed this tree as I walked down to the coffee field. What beauty.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Wanton destruction and graced beauty

Wednesday driving out to a workshop with base community leaders in the farthest zone of the parish I passed a horrid site – a hillside denuded by burning and cutting of trees.

As we are facing severe water shortages in the face of high temperatures and little rain, this is a serious attack on creation.

The previous night I had seen a fire in the distance and nearly wept.

But in the midst of this there is beauty.

Last week we had a heavy rain in the afternoon which unleashed the incredible fragrance of the guama trees by my neighbor’s house.

Then there was the beautiful sunset on Saturday.

But the real glory of the acacias is upon us. These trees, sometimes called arbol del fuego or flame tree, bloom at the end of the dry season here. Their red flowers are gorgeous.

Flowers are blooming in the garden on the south side of my house.

Yet I was in for a major surprise yesterday. I saw two brightly colored birds, mostly yellow, by windows in the second floor of the house. They are skittish and flew away as I approached, trying to take a picture.

These two birds, oropendolas, reappeared this afternoon. Laying down on the sofa in my chapel I heard them and managed to get a blurry image of one of them.

So it is also in terms of the people.

People are killed or threatened because they speak for the poor and for creation. Berta Cáceres was killed more than a month ago; a journalist had two attempts on his life a few days ago; a priest I know received death threats for being at the side of his people as they face large scale gold mining in a river in their parish near Macquelizo. Poverty continues; deaths continue.

But in the midst of this there is life.

We’ve had four workshops with base community leaders where Padre German led them in a very participative reflection on what is Church.

 We also had fifty-five young people, together with about 8 adults, participate last Saturday in the diocesan youth encounter.

A few days ago a neighbor's son harvested a flor de izote on a tree in my yard. i hope they enjoyed it. Three more should be blooming soon.

And tomorrow Goyo, a young man from Plan Grande, will be married in the church in El Zapote.

The mystery of life in the midst of death.

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.