Monday, July 20, 2015

Drought and torrential rains

It’s been a very dry year so far – and this is a cause for concern. It has also been very hot!

A lagoon that I have often passed appears to be drying up – partly due to the drought, partly to the local government that has been sucking out the water for use on road work.

The rainy season usually begins in May but this year there has been little rain. In some places, the ground is dry and hard; so people have not planted. Others who planted earlier have been fearing that their crops would dry up or would yield only a limited crop.

There is a concern about possible hunger scenarios.

But the weather yesterday and today may mark the beginning of the rainy season.

Yesterday was a beautiful day.

As I left the Celebration of the Word with Communion here in Plan Grande, I remarked to someone how clear and fresh it was.

In the afternoon I went to the youth group meeting in the nearby aldea of Candelaria, noting the threatening sky in the distance.

The rains came in the middle of the meeting and the torrential rains on the tin roof made it almost impossible to hear each other. So I did an activity with them – a trust fall.

After the meeting I drove home – in the midst of rain and fog.

When I arrived at the house I noted that the electricity was off. Then I went upstairs and noted a little lake on the terraza.

The drain is too small for all the rain to flow out and so I proceeded to push water over the side with a broom.

The rains continued – something with a lot of force – during most of the evening and into the night.

When I got up about 6:00 am, the electricity was still off and a thick fog engulfed the house.

Ar midmorning it's overcast, but the sun is peaking through the clouds.

Whether the dry season is over, I do not know. I hope so – for the well-being of the people.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Life goes on

Saturday, after a Parish Council meeting, I accompanied Padre German to two Masses. I have been accompanying him several times a month to Masses in various communities.

The first on this past Saturday, in Quebraditas, was a Quinceañera celebration. A young woman was celebrating her fifteenth birthday – a major celebration of coming of age of a young woman in some Latin American communities. Here it is not a common occurrence – possibly because of the costs of renting dresses and suits as well as providing food.

I was delightfully surprised at how the celebration was not to show off the young woman, but a real step to help her grow as a person of faith.
The quinceañera and her parents
Padre German asked me to say a few words on the readings: 1 John 4: 7-11 and  Matthew 25: 1-13. The text in Spanish can be found here.

After the Mass we rushed off to San Agustin, arriv4ing a little late for a wedding. I hadn’t expected to go to the wedding but I am glad I went.

The groom in his mid twenties had been baptized on July 5 and I had been there for the baptism. His twenty-something bride has been involved in the church. I think she has been a catechist.

The wedding was simple – much simpler than the quineañera celebration. What struck me most as I sat in front, helping during the Mass, was the sight of the two parents beside their children. If I may be a bit culturally insensitive, they were typical campesinos, people connected to the campo, the countryside. Their clothes were simple and the bride’s father had his “cowboy” sombrero.

San Agustín church decorated for the wedding
There was something very real and down-to-earth about the celebration. I was glad I had gone there.

If I am ordained a permanent deacon here, I will probably be asked by the pastor to be the church’s official witness at weddings as well as to do the sacramental preparation. That will be a real privilege (and will relieve him of some work). I won’t have to do the catechetical preparation since that is done in the villages by couples but there are “canonical” things that must be done.

In the meantime I keep busy.

I’ve begun to visit various communities on Sundays twice a month, bringing them communion for their Celebration of the Word. On July 12 I went to Delicias Concepción and on July 26 I’ll get to Oromilaca. Today I stayed here in Plan Grande – but I ended up leading the celebration and distributing communion.

As part of my formation for the permanent diaconate, the bishop had me attend the national theological study week for clergy. About 80 or so priests, transitional deacons, transitional deacon candidates, and I were there. Bishop Vittorino Girardi of Costa Rica led us in a study of Christology. It was a good conference though I didn’t learn much new, but I was very pleased when, at one point, the bishop noted Gustavo Gutierrez’s work We Drink from Our Own Wells.

This week, the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán has a study week for clergy on spiritual direction. The bishop wants me to be there.

The identity of the deacon is to serve – especially those on the margins. And so I'm involved in a few activities serving the people here.

I am still working with a cooperative of small coffee farmers which is being organized. The diocesan office of Caritas is helping them get legal status but I’ve been involved in trying to get the coffee to the United States. The parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, is working to see that there are buyers for their coffee. This year it’s not a lot – under 1,000 pounds – but if things go well there may be more for next year. It’s been a lot of work, with lots of headaches trying to maneuver through the systems, but I have hope that something good will come for these farmers.

At the end of the month, God willing, I’ll join Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell in an Alternatives to Violence workshop in the prison. That could be the start of something really good in a society so plagued with violence.

And in the midst of this I’m taking an on-line course in Canon Law.

I also have to find time in the next few weeks for a trip to Tegucigalpa to get my residence card renewed. I have residency until 2017 but I have to get a new card every year – which often means two days in one of my least favorite cities in Honduras. But it’s something I have to do to continue what I feel called to do – be present to the people here as a servant, in the name of Christ.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Building Communion

Today Little Brother Arturo Paoli passed on to the Lord he loved so much – at the age of 102.  Arturo Paoli was a member of the Little Brothers of the Gospel, a community founded with the spirituality of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.

Cross of Charles de Foucauld
The Little Brothers – as well as the Little Sisters – live a life of poverty among the poor, working as the poor do, living in community among the poor, with a deep devotion to Jesus, incarnate, present in the Eucharist, and present among the poor.

Little Brother Arturo brought the Little Brothers to Latin America in 1959 and spent much of his life in our continent. He lived in Argentina where the Little Brothers suffered under the dictatorships, several of them martyred for their solidarity with the poor.

In Venezuela he lived in community of Bojó, in the western part of the country. For a  time he shared his home with Pedro, an un-churched twenty-year old. In response to this he wrote a book for Carlos – and for all of us, Gather Together in My Name. Published by Orbis Books in 1987, it is regrettably out of print.

I had decided to spend today as a day of prayer and personal retreat but I had no idea what I would read.

Opening Facebook I discovered that Little Brother Arturo had died. I quickly sought out this book which I had read many years ago and which I had brought with me to Honduras.

I went through the book, looking at my notations and found myself challenged, but filled with joy. I found some responses to questions on how I am to live here.

Who am I – as a Christian?
Christians are persons who discover that they are loved, and find that the best response they can give, the only way to say “thanks” for the love they receive is the response of loving. The very need to love leads them not to refuse any proposal, any path that seems to them to be a good one for building communion….
if you really love, if you been captured by the love of Christ, you throw yourself into the battle for communion, but you’re on the lookout jot to lose the essential thing: love for human beings. (pp 137-8)
It all starts with God’s love –not with any ideology, not even with any doctrinal content. It all starts with the fact, with the experience of God’s love which urges us on (2 Corinthians 5:14).

What does Christ want us to share?
Today I’d say that the important thing is to share in Christ’s ideal, which can be summed up in one phrase: “to build communion by taking cognizance of uncommunion.” This is crucial, and I want to stress it with you: Christ’s ideal is to  make communion where there is uncommunion. (pp. 81-82)
 All around me I see uncommunion: poor families suffering for lack of land and work’ farmers worrying about the lack of rain and what that might mean for their families; victims of violence who feel alone and without any source of help, especially from the government and police; people in the streets frustrated by the lack of accountability of government officials in the light of serious monetary scandals; people in church separated because of those leaders at many levels who don’t want to share or allow others to participate; and so much more.
How can I be present so that communion may become possible?

What am I called to?
… all whom Jesus calls are called to one thing alone: to discover a relationship with our Father by building a communion of brothers and sisters, to bring it about in some way or another that human relationships change….
 Our betrayal of the Gospel is such that we have failed sufficiently to reflect that Christ’s interest is not so much that of getting the hungry something to eat as it is of taking a diabolical relationship and making a love relationship of it. (p. 183)
And what to do?
First of all, one ought to form a clear notion that life has not been bestowed on us in order to make money to be well off. Our raison d’être, as the French say, our reason for being, is to become brothers and sisters…
 The second thing is not to refuse political tasks that bear directly on eliminating justice in the world, and helping human beings to become brothers and sisters…. what counts is live. What counts is the real desire to struggle for communion. The third thing to do is to “be compassionate” (Luke 6:36(. Well, it’s not actually something to “do,” because we don’t get to be compassionate just by making up our minds to be so. Being compassionate is a result of something…. The  “compassionate heart” — particular sensitivity toward sisters and brothers who have been left behind, been left out — is the gift of Christ to his friends, and is the most characteristic sign that someone is Christ’s friend. (pp. 26-28)
Where do I go from here?

The first step I see is to keep reminding myself of God’s love and opening myself to my brothers and sisters her.

What follows?

Only God knows.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


This past week I spent several days at the clergy theological study week. Bishop Vittorino Girardi of Costa Rica spoke on Christology.

Most of the more than eighty participating were Honduran diocesan priests and a few Honduran transitional deacons. Three bishops attended – Bishop Darwin Andino of Santa Rosa de Copán, Bishop Guy Charboneau of Choluteca (a Canadian), and Bishop Héctor García of Yoro (the only bishop in Honduras who is a Honduran diocesan priest).

A few of the participants were from other Latin American countries – Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, but I was the only US citizen present.

I didn’t feel out of place because of my nationality, though I thought there might be a problem on Tuesday night when we went to watch the Honduras versus US soccer game. People were kidding me about this and I played along, noting that I would “win” no matter which team won.

The US scored first and I didn’t find myself jumping up and down. When Honduras scored Bishop Guy was the most enthusiastic supporter, jumping up and leading a cheer. The US won two to one – but I had no feeling of vindication. In fact, I felt a bit sad since Honduras played hard but lost.

Where do my loyalties lie?

In May before the beatification Mass for Monseñor Romero, they asked groups from various countries to make their presence known. I was with three US women religious who serve in El Salvador and Honduras and with an Italian religious who has been in El Salvador for many years. When the US was mentioned none of us made our presence known, but we did cheer when Honduras or El Salvador was mentioned.

Some call those who live in another country than their birth nation “ex-pats” – “ex-patriots”. They are not called migrants (though that’s what they are).

I don’t consider myself an ex-pat. I’m not here in Honduras as a US citizen. I am a US citizen with all its privileges and more. But that’s not my identity here. That’s why I have not registered with the US Embassy and have no plans to do it.

I am here as part of  universal Church – a church which is “catholic,” which goes beyond borders.

That’s where my loyalties lie.

Or maybe I should say that my loyalties lie with the Church that is at the service of the poor – the church which is called to be poor, to be of the poor, and for the poor.

Years ago when some US folks here were fearing a military invasion before the 2009 coup, a friend asked me if I would leave if there were a military invasion.

I told him, “No.”

He said that that was what he expected.

I’m here. I’m part of the community where I live and of the church where I serve.

My loyalty lies with the poor.


In the last few decades I have become rooted in an understanding of Jesus as God who became flesh, who became incarnated among the poor.

If God is here in a special way, maybe I should be here.

Others will experience a call to be present with the poor elsewhere, but – as of now – this is where I sense the call.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Is dialogue the only way?

Recently in the face of a serious crisis in a Latin American country, a bishop stated
“In a democracy, dialogue is the only way to get any type of disagreement or difference off the ground.” 
This echoed a statement of the bishops’ conference that
In whatever democracy, the only way to solve differences is dialogue, which is open, respectful, and sincere, with capacity for listening and which provides concrete and verifiable solutions which benefit society.
The bishops seem to be reflecting a quote from a homily of Pope John Paul II in 2000 at the Jubilee Mass for governmental leaders and politicians:
... dialogue always presents itself as an irreplaceable instrument for any constructive confrontation both in the internal relations of the States and in the international ones.
In light of the current situation in Honduras, I’m not sure that the statement of the bishops fits.

The situation in Honduras

First of all, here’s a rather over-simplified look at the current situation.

In Honduras we have a critical situation in the light of serious issues of corruption and impunity which affect the governing political party.

The opposition, initiated with students who call themselves the indignados, and has attracted the attention of several opposition political parties but more importantly the support of many who have taken to the streets of the major cities in torch-lit marches for more than a month.

The opposition is calling for the establishment in Honduras of a Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad [CICI], an International Commission against Impunity, as was done in Guatemala. The CICIG is a United Nations-backed commission formed to combat corruption in Guatemala.

Many in opposition are also calling for the resignation of the current president Juan Orlando Hernández and other government leaders involved in the crisis

In response, President Hernández has called for dialogue and proposed his own approach to corruption: Sistema Integral Contra la Impunidad, Integrated System Against Impunity.

Many of the protestors reject this approach, even though there are reports that the United Nations and the Organization of American States are willing to serve as part of a dialogue.

Is this a reasonable response?
More details of this can be found on the Honduras Culture and Politics blog as well as on the Central American Politics blog. 

The call for dialogue

I am all for dialogue but not all “dialogues” are really dialogues. But I do wonder if dialogue is the only way —“la única forma” — to deal with social conflicts.

My first thought when reading this statement was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, who was answering some clergy who thought the direct action of the civil rights movement in Birmingham was unwise and untimely. “Why not negotiate?”
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
Would President Hernández have even suggested dialogue if there had not been the massive street marches?

But I think that there are also conditions for any real dialogue.

First of all, there must be some mutual respect.

I do think some of the reactions of the opposition are a bit overboard – in the heat of the moment.

But this has taken place in a framework of contempt. Ebal Díaz, an adviser of the president has stated: “They don’t believe in God; they don’t respect anyone; and they are inclined to sow chaos.”

Can there be dialogue when at least one - and perhaps both - of the parties involved has marginalized the other in this way?

President Hernández has made some efforts to “dialogue” with persons and groups. The most notable has been the Honduran Conference of Bishops. Here, in Spanish, is an example of how the government seems to have manipulated that event.

But has the President, either himself or through aides, tried to dialogue with leaders of the opposition or even with the youth and indigenous who are fasting near the Presidential Palace?

He has called for a dialogue and asked for help from the Catholic bishops, other national groups, and international bodies. He met with the bishops last week.

But can there be dialogue when one party controls the venue and the agenda of the dialogue – or decides who will facilitate any dialogue?
Addendum: The minister of Labor has been appointed to facilitate the dialogue process.
Can there be any real dialogue when one of the parties holds a monopoly of power?

Can there be any real dialogue when one of the parties is accused of actions that have provoked the outburst of indignation?

On June 29, several Honduran intellectuals released a very significant statement, found here in Spanish, that addresses some of these issues. The signers include the Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, the director of Radio Progreso.

Here are some extracts, loosely translated:
No one in a right mind, who believes in democracy and who is grieving this Honduras humiliated, could deny dialogue. At the end, there must be dialogue. 
 Nevertheless, to speak of dialogue so lightly without touching the ground of what is the origin of the polarization and the confirmation of the political cliques to hijack the goods of the State instead of contributing to the solution of the crisis of the institution is a trap. 
 In Honduras we have a long history of dialogues among those at the top which, instead of resolving the contradictions, foster conspiracies and in the end result the approval of decrees and laws which temporarily enhance the same groups in power in their antidemocratic practices. 
 To address the true conflicts that this crisis occasions, it is necessary to set up a dialogue which brings to light the truth about the conflicts, the inequalities, and with identifies those responsible for the institutional disaster, for the corruption and collapse of decent governing. 
 We insist: all can participate; but the dialogue which we need to reconcile society and reconstruct the institutional functioning [institutionalidad] can not be convened nor directed by those who are suspected or identified as part of the problem, by those who are directly promoting of the crisis or directly responsible [for it].

Catholic social thought and democracy

But I have two additional concerns about the assertion that dialogue is the only way to deal with conflict and division.

The first was addressed directly by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
Secondly, Catholic Social Thought has affirmed the importance of the development and participation of civil society in the construction of a real participatory democracy.

here are a few citations form the 2007 final statement of the meeting of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) in Aparecida, Brazil:
75. Participatory democracy is growing stronger with the more assertive presence of civil society, and the emergence of new social actors, such as indigenous people, Afro-Americans, women, professionals, a broad middle class, and organized poor people, and more room for political participation is being created. These groups are becoming aware of the power they hold in their hands and of the possibility of bringing about major changes for achieving more just government policies, which will reverse their situation of exclusion. 
 76… All this indicates that there cannot be true and stable democracy without social justice, without real separation of powers, and unless the rule of law is upheld. 
 406…. we propose the following:
         a.  Support the participation of civil society for the reorientation and consequent restoration of ethics in politics. Hence, venues for the participation of civil society to make democracy effective, a true economy of solidarity, and comprehensive, sustainable development in solidarity are all very important.
I would suggest that the presence of groups of people on the streets of Honduras can be a sign of a people awakening to taking its responsibility for the good of the country. It is – despite errors and problems – one of the ways that the people are using to work for real change in the Honduran society.

It is not the only way – but it cannot be ruled out by stating that dialogue is the only way to resolve conflicts in a democracy.

One church leader has stated that “If there is no dialogue, there will be anarchy.”

But I would suggest that if there is no openness to listening to all parties – especially those in the streets and those who are on hunger strike – there will be anarchy – the lack of rule of law.

Perhaps we are already in a state of anarchy – where corruption, inequality, and impunity reign.

Perhaps the torch-lit marches have helped open up the Honduran society for a real dialogue – based in the pursuit of justice and the common good.

I hope so.

I pray so.

And I long for more people like Padre Fausto Milla, an 88 year old priest from our diocese, who went and listened to those who are fasting.

Padre Fausto with some of the hunger strikers