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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Indignant - the torch marches

Out here in the countryside I don’t see a lot of what goes on in the country, except through some online news reports, a few blogs, Facebook, and two list-serves. But I sense that something is brewing. Several young professionals I know are often posting on Facebook  about the “marchas de las antorchas.”

For more than four weeks people have been marching in the streets, calling for an end to corruption. Thousands are coming out in the major cities at night, carrying torches. They are particularly incensed at reports that hundreds of millions of dollars have been stolen from the Honduras Social Security Institute, which is responsible for much of the public health care. Many of them are also calling on the President to resign, due to recent reports that some of the money siphoned off ended up supporting the National Party in the 2013 elections. The president is a member of the National Party and was previously the president of the National Congress, where his party manipulated the Supreme Court and has militarized the police.

There are political figures involved, but I have a sense that there are enough young people involved who don’t want to be manipulated by any party. There seems to have been a youth movement that began last year that is very much involved in the nightly marches. They call themselves the “indignados” – the indignant ones.

The marches are also calling for an international commission to investigate impunity. They seem to be inspired by a similar commission for Guatemala that has been working since 2007.

Recently several young people have begun a hunger strike. The government’s response has been to send hundred of military to prevent them from staying where they were and to prevent their connection with the wider world. Up to this point six young people are on hunger strike.
UPDATE: Several of the hunger strikers have suspended their fast, partly in response to repressive tactics of government forces.
The president has replied calling for a dialogue – but there appear to be many problem with this. The marchers feel that many of those who would be involved in a government-sponsored dialogue are tainted by graft and corruption.

Several good blog posts on the issues of the government corruption and responses to the marches can be found at Honduras Culture and Politics, which continues to offer solid reports.

I hope this "movement" is a good sign for the future of Honduras.

I found the remarks of Victor Meza on Radio Progesso’s website helpful for understanding what might be happening.

When asked for his analysis of the situation he replied:
What is happening in Honduras is like a rebirth, strengthened, of the spirit of citizen participation, of civic spirit, of a spirit of enthusiasm for combatting a situation which is characterized by the ethical disintegration of the State, for the moral ruin of the present government, and by a State of moral decomposition so broad, so vast, that tyrannizes the entire society. 
When asked about the street demonstrations of the youth, he replied, in part:
They reflect a state of courage, of social disgust, of weariness. It is a form of saying: enough…
One of my concerns in the last few years is that real social analysis and protest has been muted or, worse, siphoned off into political partisanship. Where has the consciousness raising been happening?

I hope this is the beginning of a new era of conscious, critical, and responsible citizenship that looks for real social change here.

My concern is that the movement seems to be mostly urban and, though I may be wrong, middle class or lower middle class. Is there involvement of the poor in the barrios of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa?

But my other concern is that the poor in the countryside seem to be on the sidelines. Will they have a voice? 

We shall see.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Too busy to write much in June

A few friends have noted that I have not written a lot on this blog during June.

The month began with my sixty-eighth birthday, which I spent fairly quietly.

The first Saturday of June I went to Intibucá with about 25 young people from the parish for a diocesan youth gathering. The trip was three hours long and the weather was bad. Most of us got soaked during the Mass.

It was good to be with the young people, but - to be honest - the event was disappointing. But two fo the youth groups are planning to get together for a joint meeting.

I have had three visitors. I went to El Salvador for a few days with two of them and visited with some friends while there. I spent four hours talking with a journalist friend in English, which was very intellectually stimulating.

The other visitor has been studying medical missions in Honduras and I accompanied her on a visit to a clinic supported by a US Foundation. We talked a lot about Honduras and so-called “mission” groups. I also took her to the Copán Ruins which are only 90 minutes from my house.

In mid June I visited the Amigos de Jesús center for children near Azacualpa, talking with the US volunteers. The directors have asked me to visit with the volunteers every two months or so in order to help them process their experience and deepen their faith and spiritual life as volunteers in Honduras. This should be a very interesting and challenging experience.

This means that I have spoken more English this month than I usually do in three months. I wonder if I might be slowly losing my fluency in English.

 I’ve been involved in several workshops – for delegates of the Word and for base community leaders. I had full responsibility for one, but Padre German did most of the work in the workshop for delegates. I also accompanied a meeting of the extraordinary ministers of Communion.

I have also accompanied Padre German to several villages, which have included Baptisms. Padre German is having me help a lot in the liturgies – presumably as a preparation for my possible ordination as a deacon.

In San Juan, I spent about ten minutes before Mass talking with the kids and asking them a little about why they were getting baptized. They also had a load of questions for me.

I am regularly visiting villages on Sundays for their Celebrations of the Word. That means preparation for my reflection on the readings.

I’m also in the midst of trying to see how the coffee from a small cooperative in formation can get to the United States.

I am also trying to do a bit of study as part of the formation process of the diaconate. I am taking a course on line on canon law and I am reading a lot on varied topics, including Joseph Martos’ book on the sacraments,  Doors to the Sacred.

I also met once with a spiritual director, but have to fond another one since he is being called back to the US by his order.

There have also been mundane pursuits – getting a Honduran driver’s license which took half a day; medical appointments with an eye doctor and with my regular doctor; weekly visits to Santa Rosa de Copán to buy groceries and other needs; leaving my car with the mechanic for repairs; getting soil to fill in the garden area around the house; washing clothes (by hand). Right now I have a huge pile of clothes to wash – including two sets of sheets. I hope the weather is good next Monday and Tuesday.

I did have a chance last week to have a long lunch over pizza at Weekend’s in Santa Rosa with Sister Nancy Meyerhofer, a Dubuque Franciscan in nearby Gracias. These are great ways to catch up on our lives and share our experiences.

July promises to be a bit less busy; I may have to try to take a few days for retreat or vacation.

Nancy, in her general letter, wrote something that really resonates with me:
One of my mentors in Chile, a wise older Jesuit, once told me that pastoral work is like playing an accordion: there are times when the whole thing is squeezed together (or “crunch time,” I guess we could say) and other times when the music box is relaxed and open. 
June has been crunch time for me; July may be more relaxed, hopefully opening me to the continuing call of God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Culture of Encounter: Six Days in the Life of John Donaghy

Gary Guthrie, who visited me recently with his wife, Nancy, asked if I would accept a guest entry. I think it's always food to hear another voice, especially when he describes how they shared my life for six days. 

Me - with Gary and Nancy
Below is a slightly edited entry from Gary. All of the photos below are his.


Pope Francis calls the church to a “culture of encounter”, a poor church of the poor. One way to look at poverty of spirit is recognizing that all life is gift; all good things come from God. We ought not be entitled to anything. When we encounter “another,” it is always with the possibility that the incarnated Christ in that person calls each of us to an ever-deeper ongoing conversion.

Twenty-eight years ago this July 17th John was our first overnight guest from outside El Salvador in San Jose Guayabal, El Salvador. Nancy and I were there with the Mennonite Central Committee administering fertilizer loans to farmers, displaced due to the Salvadoran Civil War. John came to walk with us, to accompany us for a short while to learn from our Salvadoran friends and their faith.

This past June 8th Nancy and I had the opportunity to return the favor, as we were John’s first overnight guests in his new house from outside Honduras.

Many people ask John,  “What is a typical day like for you?” Perhaps it is best said there is no “typical” day; so I would like to briefly describe our 6 days with John.

Monday (hospitality): John picks us up at the San Pedro Sula airport at noon. It is hot and very humid along the coast, but we begin the four hour drive up into the mountains. Each stop along the way it gets cooler and less humid. We arrive in Plan Grande and John’s two story home is nestled tightly behind the village church and next to the old adobe chapel. 

There is no town center around which everyone lives. This is all fairly steep mountainous terrain; so many people live along the mountain ridge. The elementary school is located right next to the church and beside John’s home.

John’s home has two bedrooms downstairs with a nice open kitchen and living room, as well as a bathroom along with a wash station. You climb upstairs to a covered patio, John’s bedroom and a chapel/prayer room. There is a large open patio to dry clothes and ¡oh! what a view of the countryside!

 Tuesday (evangelization): We just spent time talking and getting caught up with our lives. As most of you know John does a lot of writing on his blogs; so he is working on that as well as preparation for a workshop that will take place on Friday morning with parish leaders from one of four zones in the Dulce Nombre de Maria Parish.

Much of what John does in the parish is write or rewrite catechetical material for parish leaders as it relates to the sacraments, faith life and social action. This is one of his greatest gifts to the parish.

The parish has a small plot of land in Plan Grande recently planted to coffee to raise funds for the parish’s ministries. We walked down the road a couple hundred meters to look at it. One can view it from John’s 2nd floor.

Wednesday (beauty): John has some flowerbeds that needed soil at the base of his home. Two young men came and gathered 12 large sacks of soil mixed with cow manure, then 24 more sacks of soil taken from two sites that we brought in and dumped from John’s pick-up. Someday when we return it will be full of beautiful perennial flower plants. Since I farm organic vegetables in Iowa, John thought this would be an appropriate activity for me to be a part of.

Thursday (economic justice): Thursday morning we took off to pick-up 1000+ pounds of coffee which we took, along with the farmers, to an coffee agency that ships coffee to a variety of locations around the world. This is a pilot project to possibly bring coffee from the Dulce Nombre area to the Ames area to sell. I was impressed that such a large facility was willing to handle such a small amount but they were. They take samples out of the bag to test for moisture, weight and quality. There is a steep learning curve for all involved. Hopefully soon it won’t be just Dulce Nombre [Sweet Name] but Sweet Flavor too! as we sip some Honduran coffee at home. This is not a main focus for John but he is trying to facilitate the process. If all goes well the farmers will try to export more quantity in future years as they get a much better price then selling it on the open coffee market.

Friday: We traveled into Dulce Nombre (about 25 minutes) for a workshop that John was giving to about 20 community leaders. There are about 50 different communities in the parish and they are divided into 4 zones. It is an opportunity for leadership development and a way to know how it is going in their communities. One of the main activities in the workshop was a scriptural reflection on the passage where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. They used a form of Ignatian imagination, placing yourself in the scripture and then describing to others what you heard, experienced. Instead of just reading the story you “encounter” Jesus in the story and allow his Spirit to touch you. It is very much a part of what Pope Francis wants for all of us when he talks about becoming a “Culture of Encounter”. When we encounter the incarnated Jesus in others, it so often leads to conversion.

John is trying to model something different for parish leaders and they are to share in similar ways with others in their communities during their Sunday Liturgies of the Word.

After eating lunch with Padre German, we all took off to a community whose feast day was the Sacred Heart of Jesus. After over an hour long drive, we finally arrived and the small chapel was packed with folks. Young men outside the chapel would light off bottle rockets every now and then. There was to be around 22 baptisms that day ranging from a couple of newborn babies to 12-14 year olds. It was organized chaos with John helping with giving the baptized their candles after Padre German anointed them with chrism. It was many moments of great joy and celebration as the entire community celebrated and then shared a light meal after the service.

The next day was going to be a long day for the Padre. It was the feast day of Anthony of Padua, a popular saint; so he had 5 masses on Saturday and another 5 on Sunday!

Saturday (full-circle): On Saturday, John drove us the five to six hour drive to Suchitoto, El Salvador, where we have a mutual friend that we wanted to see. It brought us full circle as it was in this area that our relationship with John began.

What is it that keeps drawing us back and keeps John there? I believe it is in part because in the lives of the rural poor the Gospel comes alive; the Gospel is simpler because the people know intimately they are dependent upon God. We in the north seldom know this in our hearts. Fathers Richard Rohr and Ronald Rolheiser both talk about that in our second half of life we are to “give our lives away”. This is simply what John is doing. He is serving, losing his life and gaining so much life in return.

Any of you that can, go visit John. Take a retreat of “Encounter” and prepare yourself for conversion! Today as I write, it is the Feast of St. John the Baptist. Much like the first John, John’s living witness calls us to a deeper relationship with God and to serve others, wherever we find ourselves.