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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A short trip back to Iowa

Leaving Honduras, even for a short visit, is becoming harder every year.

I guess this means I feel at home here.

It does help that I am building a house in the village of Plan Grande, Concepción, Copán. That will enable me to minister much more easily with the people in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

Front of the house - unpainted

Unfinished kitchen area
Upper open area, looking southeast
southwest view from the oratory/study
The house is larger than I thought it would be but I will keep the house open for visitors, as well as a place for friends in Honduras to come for a few days of rest and retreat. I already have one room claimed by a Spanish Franciscan sister and another claimed by a Dubuque Franciscan sister. I will have to keep a calendar for bookings!

I see this as a new opportunity to serve – being more present with the people.

I’m leaving today for Ames, Iowa, to visit with folks at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center, the church that sponsored me for several years and that is now a sister parish with Dulce Nombre de María.  

It’s a short visit, squeezed in between various workshops that were planned. But I hope to see a number of folks – both for fun and for generating support for the parish and for projects.

But my heart is really in Honduras, in the parish.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The campesino and "The Joy of the Gospel"

Recently it was reported that an Italian bishop had disparagingly said that Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, could have been written by a campesino.

I can think of no greater way to actually praise this work.

This merits a longer analysis but here are a few remarks remarks followed by a few quotes on the poor from that document which has over 60 references to the poor.

Concern for the poor is central to our faith in part because the Son of God came among us as a poor man and lived among the poor.
186. Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.
Therefore, we are called to become instruments of God’s liberating love with the poor:
187. Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid. A mere glance at the Scriptures is enough to make us see how our gracious Father wants to hear the cry of the poor…
But the poor also can teach us:
198. For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy”. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”. in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”. This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty”. This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.
That means that our sense of mission must include the poor as a priority, for they are “the privileged recipients of the Gospel.”
48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them.
Our selfish individualism closes us to God and to the poor:
2. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too.
But when we open ourselves to the poor and accompany them, we can experience their joys and their sufferings.
7. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to.
 193. We incarnate the duty of hearing the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others.
Yes, a campesino could have written it – or a follower of the Word made Flesh among campesinos, twenty centuries ago in Bethlehem.