Thursday, November 27, 2014

Christ the King procession and Mass

It was a bit cold and rainy yesterday and today promises to be the same. A cold front, they call it.

This is normal for November, December, and early January. Yet there are often bright, sunny, and even hot days interspersed.

Last Sunday was warm and sunny – which was good for us as we celebrated the feast of Christ the King in the parish of Dulce Nombre with a procession from the outskirts of Dulce Nombre de Copán to Dolores – probably about three kilometers, partly uphill.

My guess is that over 2,000 people came from almost all the villages of the parish to celebrate this all-parish Mass. A few came with statues on decorated pickups.

The pickup with the parish statue of the Sacred Heart broke down and so the statue was carried up hill for more than a kilometer.

Mass was celebrated outside the church in Dolores, with most of the people standing or sitting in the town park.

The communion ministers came and were given a special insignia to wear when they take communion to the sick.

It was a good day to be with the people.

There was only one thing that I found a bit disconcerting. An older artist in Dolores had made an image of Christ the King that was placed above the stage where the altar was.

Take a look.

Jesus is a gringo.

Someone asked me about the image and I respectfully told him that Jesus was not a gringo. He was probably more like them – black hair, brown eyes, dark skinned.

A few months ago I had mentioned the same thing to a young artist in Dulce Nombre about an image he painted in the church. I also showed him a variety of images of Jesus. He recently finished repainting the image of Jesus – ‘más trigueño,” he told me: “more dark-skinned.”

A Christ poor and like the people here is the Christ I envision – a King who came to serve.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back home in Honduras, November

After 12 days in Iowa, I’m back home and already in the midst of many projects.

Yesterday, Tuesday, November 11, I was with 28 catechists in the remotest zone of the parish, facilitating the last workshop of the year.

It’s almost always fun to be with the catechists who pass on the faith to young people in their villages. It’s been encouraging to see them grow – especially as we are learning together new ways to work with young people.

Here in Honduras most of the education is very content oriented. The professor gives out the information; the students write in their notebooks, because there are few textbooks; the students regurgitate the information memorized for the exams.

No wonder the twelve year old at the workshop with his mother had dropped out after the fourth grade. I spent about ten minutes talking with him, asking him about his work in the fields, and even attempting to give him a biology lesson based on his experience in the fields. He seemed to be a good observer of his work. I asked him if his teacher had ever tried to explain the biology of plants as we did together. The sad answer was “No.” Now there may be some teachers who do this, but my experience is that the norm is pure rote memorization – what Paolo Freire calls “the banking method of education.”

What we are trying to do in the parish is to use popular methodology to help people learn by doing, to learn by connecting with their daily life, to learn not only material but critical thinking. It’s a challenge but I saw some results.

Part of the workshop was beginning to help the catechists develop their own lessons and not depend on material from outside. After eliciting from them some of the elements needed, I divided them into four groups, each with a different theme.

One group had as its theme “Abraham.” What impressed me was how they started by asking about fathers.

We’ll continue working on this next year. Meanwhile I have another catechist workshop this week and two more next week.

I am also in the final stages of getting the house in Plan Grande finished. Lots of details has meant three visits there already this week.

Monday the kids in the school were playing in the road.

One group was playing hopscotch, another marbles. What a delight to see them playing.

The windows are in the house; the doors will be hung this Thursday and Friday; painting will begin next week. I have hopes that I will be able to move in the beginning of December.

The upstairs
The oratory
Then I’ll be able to be closer to the people and visit communities more frequently. This will be important next year as our parish, Dulce Nombre de María, will be planning a series of training sessions for catechists, base community leaders, delegates of the Word, communion ministers, and youth group leaders.

I am also in the midst of two projects that our sister parish in Ames, Iowa – St. Thomas Aquinas – is working on.

The first is accompanying a small coffee cooperative in El Zapote de Santa Rosa  which hopes to be able to export high-quality coffee to the US.
The coffee harvest is just starting and there are hopes that they might be able to sell a small shipment (1500 pounds) this year to roasters in Kansas City and Ames.

The other project is the third year of a scholarship program for poor participants in the Maestro en Casa alternative education project. Students – mostly in the equivalents of middle school and high school – listen to radio programs, fill out a workbook, and meet for about 4 or 5 hours on the weekend with a teacher. When schools are not close, this is often the only way the poor can study beyond grade school.

I have to revise the scholarship application, get them printed and distributed to the six centers before the end of the month.

And then there's parish council this Saturday, a parish celebration on the feast of Christ the King, the entry of about 50 people in the catechumenate on November 30, and parish planning on December 5 and 6. Though I'm not the person responsible for all of these, I will be present and working with Padre German as well as the parish council.

I’ve got work to do.

I am grateful for that.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Update to the St. Thomas Aquinas parish

I'm in Ames, Iowa for twelve days to connect with the parish and friends, sharing a bit of what the parish of Dulce Nombre de María is doing and a bit of my developing ministry. I'll have about two minutes at the end of each Mass this coming weekend, but here is a more detailed report of what is going on.

First of all, I bring you greetings and thanks for your solidarity from the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. Padre German is extremely grateful and continually reminds the people of the generosity of St. Thomas, our sister parish.

Our parish in Honduras is a struggling parish, as all parishes should be.

The parish embraces 50 towns, villages, and hamlets where Padre German celebrates Mass at least once every two months – often traveling long distances in the parish truck.

In almost every town and village, there are catechists and delegates, those who lead Sunday celebrations of the Word. There are 16 Communion ministers who bring the Eucharist to several communities each week.

The work of  the catechists is long but with results. Since August 2013 there have been more than 2200 baptisms. This year the bishop came out and confirmed more than 500.

There are also base communities in almost every village where people meet every week. One of our challenges is to make these communities more participative.

But there are other challenges. Honduras is the second poorest country in this hemisphere. Our parish is one of the poorest in our diocese. Honduras also lacks an adequate police and judicial system.

There have been major challenges this year. A fungus affected many small coffee farmers who cut down the infected plants and planted a different variety. But they have to wait at least three years for a decent harvest.

A drought has severely affected this years bean crop – and beans are a staple of the Honduran diet.

Recently torrential rains affected several villages in the parish, leaving people  without decent housing.

But in the face of this we continue.

The people evangelize others. In October, many villages had teams of people visiting all the houses to invite people to participate in the life of the church.

The parish received the gift of one manzana (about 1.68 acres) of recently planted coffee. Through a gift from St. Thomas the parish was able to purchase a second manzana next to the donation. Parish volunteers go out about once a month to weed and fertilize the plants. Within two or three years, the coffee harvest from these two manzanas will help make the parish somewhat sustainable. Thanks to St. Thomas.

The alternative education program, Maestro en Casa, offers young people the chance of a middle school education. St. Thomas partial scholarships enable more than 150 to participate in this program and study until the 9th grade. This is important since there are only four regular middle schools and one high school in the confines of the parish.

There are other projects in process.

The parish plans to form base communities of young people (an alternative to youth groups) so that we can help them grow in their faith and continue the faith formation that they received preparing for confirmation.

The parish will continue to train catechists four times a year. We are trying to help these catechists develop programs that help the children and youth grow in faith and also encourage their imaginations.

The parish will also be training new Communion Ministers and will continue formation programs with base communities and with delegates of the Word.

A group in one of the villages is forming a coffee cooperative. Their hope – and mine – is to develop a way for them to directly market coffee to the US, thus getting a better price and avoiding middlemen. They are organized; what is needed is organization from the US side.

A young woman dentist is beginning to work on setting up a small clinic for the parish in the parish to supplement the work of the public health system. This is still a work in the dream and planning stage, but offers another way to directly assist the lives of the people in the parish.

By the end of this year, I hope to be living in a village in the parish to better enable me to work with the people. In this way I will cut my travel costs and have easier access to even the remotest villages of the parish. For this I have built, with my retirement funds, a house which will belong to the church but which I will use to live and also as a place to receive some visitors. This will be a place for some church workers I know to come for a day or more of rest and retreat.

I want to thank the parish for its support of the Dulce Nombre parish and to ask you to continue to be in solidarity with us – in your prayers and in other ways to support our ministries.