Every so often someone here complains about Hondurans as being passive or fatalistic. Often I hear church people complaining that the people don’t want to take responsibility. A few people I know tell me that you have to repeat things over and over again so that the people get it.
There is a little truth to this, but it needs to be thought through.
First of all, some people who say these things really believe that many or most Hondurans are irresponsible and let things happens – out of personal laziness or irresponsibility. It’s a national character flaw in their minds.
I’ve seen some of this. Things go wrong and nobody does anything to correct it. A toilet overflows and it feels that everyone if waiting for someone to come from outside and fix it. I’ve encountered professionals who do not return e-mails or phone calls.
But sometimes, especially among the rural poor and those who work in the church, this might be due to the way that people are approached. If we come with all the answers, why ask questions. If we come only to criticize or show them the right way, why should someone take the initiative; the powerful have the answers and if we contradict them they might not like it and stop helping us
But I really think there’s something even more basic.
It came to me this morning when I read a passage from Exodus 6:9 in the Vigils readings in Benedictine Daily Prayer:
…they wouldn’t listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery. (NRSV translation)
The Tanahk translation is revealing:
…they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.
I shared this with Padre German this morning because I think that some of the problems we face in ministry – and in other aspects of life here in western Honduras – come from the crushed spirits of the people who are live in cruel bondage.
The governments and political parties promise them many things – but poverty, powerlessness, and violence continue. Non-governmental organizations promise to help them, but some provide some help in order to increase their funding from abroad, others do it bringing in their own agendas, without really hearing the people.
Yes, there are some good changes and good programs, but still the overall atmosphere is one where promises are broken – and so people stop dreaming.
Their hearts are also broken, I feel, when aid is brought in without helping the people to take their lives in their own hands. For the most part, they’ll wait for the government to fix a road full of potholes, rather than doing something themselves. Or, in a case I know of, a village waited for the city hall to provide funds to fix the house of an older couple (parents and grandparents of about half the village) rather than work together to enlarge the house by making adobe bricks that cost nothing.
Their hearts are broken by those who seek to keep the people dependent – the political parties, some non-governmental organizations, some groups in the church.
There hearts are broken by the failure to provide meaningful education for the young. I have encountered many young people who have not finished grade school and there are even young people who can nether read nor write. My guess is that some dropped out because the education was so poor.
But much of this brokenness is due to the cruel bondage, almost slavery, of the people who endure poor wages and poor prices for their crops, who pay high interests on loans for the fertilizer for their crops, who cannot find land to plant because large landowners have hoarded land for their large coffee plantations and pastures for their cattle.
This is slavery and people often feel there is no way out.
And so they become fatalistic, they do not seem to listen to those who come with a word that might help them organize to change.
They are like the people who would not listen to Moses, because their hearts have been broken by the cruel system of slavery and bondage.
But, in the midst of this, I still have hope.
I know that God did finally liberate the people from their slavery and they slowly – all too slowly – began to be a people.
But I also have hope because I see signs in the people I work with.
There was the young man concerned about rumors that two catechumens he knows were living with their boyfriends. I had a long chat with him that ranged from suggestions on how to respond pastorally to them to a discussion about sex and marriage!
There are the catechists who are learning how to pray in different ways and recognize that the example we used was meant to help them move to a pray that does not center on me, that looks at the needs of others.
There is the young catechist in his village where eleven couples are preparing to be married in the church.
He also works with the community of youth which is using the scheme the parish has proposed for base communities. I told him I was concerned that the youth community was not connecting with the village church council. He set me straight. They want to but are discouraged by the council’s failure to start on time – sometime not starting until 60 or 90 minutes after the official starting time. They told the council that they would come when the meetings start on time. They are demanding responsibility.
There are other examples that I have shared here and that I will continue to share. But I think we have to see how difficult some of this is – when the environment and the cultural, religious, political, and social structures do not give courage, but at times stifle the spirit.
But, most of all, we need to maintain and encourage hope!