Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mission and ministry

Before I came to Honduras in 2007, I worked for almost 24 years in campus ministry and social ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center.

When I went to Ames to be interviewed for the position at St. Thomas I was pleasantly surprised at the sense of outreach and mission that the parish had in its ministry with students at Iowa State University.

I felt that at St. Thomas the students were being welcomed to live their faith in an active way. My impression, at that time, was that many Catholic universities relied on a campus culture of Catholicism to reach Catholic students. But St. Thomas had the wisdom to see the importance of reaching out and challenging the students, in the midst of a culture that was not Catholic. It was refreshing.

When I began ministry there in July 1983, I noted that there was an interesting item in the job description – “campus walks.” I soon learned the wisdom and the importance of that responsibility.

I began to walk on campus, sometimes with other campus ministers, sometimes with students. I soon began to meet a good number of faculty members and students. I got involved in a number of groups, mostly as an outsider accompanying them. I also got involved in some activities of the campus’ Committee on Lectures.

At the church I also began what I consider one of the most important part of my ministries – greeting students before and after Mass. I would stand at the entrances and exits and greet students, sometimes asking their names (and quickly forgetting them), sometimes starting a conversation, sometimes inviting them to specific events we had at the center. And then, when I’d walk on campus, any number of students would greet me.

Being present where people are has been an important part of ministry for me.

It was not enough to wait in an office in the church for people to show up.

Coming here to Honduras, this has become even clearer, especially as I’m working in a parish. I have the witness of our current pastor who is often on the go. There are about 50 villages and towns in the parish and he tries to be present for Mass in each village at least once every two months. He also has between five and seven Masses each Sunday – a Saturday evening Mass in the seat of one municipality, a 7 am Mass in the seat of another municipality, a 9 am Mass in one of the churches in the parish center, an afternoon Mass in different villages or in the seat of another municipality, and a 7 pm Mass in the main parish church.

The sacraments are mostly celebrated in the distinct towns and villages. This means that the religious education takes place in more than 40 places in the parish. So I have training sessions about five times a year – often repeating the workshop in each of the four zones of the parish. I’ve also accompanied the pastor often to preach and baptize in different places on Sundays and during the week.

Mission and being a missionary means going out, not staying fixed. For a hermit like me, this can be difficult at times, but the calling is a real blessing.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hands, communion, water - a deacon's meditation

The Mass for the closing of the centennial year of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán was celebrated today in the atrium of the cathedral – since the crowd could not fit inside. 

On this bright, sunny, hot morning, I was one of five deacons at the Mass.

The other four deacons in the picture are “transitional” deacons who will be ordained, God willing, this year. I am the old guy, the permanent deacon, on the left.

The concept of a permanent deacon is still very hard for some people to grasp, since there only experience is the transitional deacon. The deacon as a permanent sign of Christ the Servant is new – even to some priests.

I had to explain this to people several times today. A young priest, who is very accepting but continually talks about me and the priesthood, had to tell a young man that I was not a minister of the sacrament of reconciliation. Later, speaking to a small group of young people from Santa Barbara I explained the importance of witnessing on the altar the image of Christ the Servant, but quickly had to correct myself by explaining that part of my ministry is to facilitate their ministry as servants.

But as I served today at the altar I remembered the remark of a US priest about the role of the permanent deacon. As I have reinterpreted his quote, a deacon serves at the altar, the table of the Lord, with clean hands because his hands are dirty from serving at the table of the poor.

My hands aren’t really dirty, though I do have some residue from coffee picking on my thumbs and forefingers and under my nails. That is a good reminder of my ministry - showing the link between the table of the Lord and the table of the poor in the world.

But as I distributed communion today at the Mass, the importance of hands come clearer to me.

Here most people, out of a sense of reverence and a feeling of unworthiness, receive the host on the tongue. But today there were many people who came forward, as I walked into the crowd, with their hands extended to receive Jesus. I noted the hands – especially several hands stained and calloused from hard work. What a fitting place for Jesus to rest – in the hands that daily sought to do the will of God, working God’s holy creation.

I was overwhelmed at one point, near tears. For here Jesus was finding his resting place in the hands of people like him, people he identified with, people he loved.These were people who made His presence felt in the world.

The Mass ended and the bishop moved with the deacons and the priests into the cathedral behind the altar. But I knew that not all the plastic bags of water had been distributed and so I decided to go and help pass them out. I went to the car where the bags were and had the men there fill my arms with the bags. I proceeded, refilling my arms several times, to pass the water around – in my vestments.

What better way to end the Mass – having served the people the Body of Christ, I was now serving them water for the journey. What better ways to serve as a deacon.


A few other comments about today's liturgy.

The first reading was read by a Lenca woman from Intibucá. I didn't take a picture of her during the Mass since I was seated behind her, by the bishop. But I did take this one from a distance before Mass, as she was preparing to read.

During the Mass the five deacons shared their roles.

I carried the Gospel book in the opening procession.

I also ended up receiving the gifts from the offertory procession. As I think of it I find this most appropriate for a permanent deacon whose ministry, is in part, to witness to and to highlight the connection between the altar and the world.

I also was asked to assist the bishop with the incensing - accompanying him as he incensed the altar and the gifts. I also them incensed the bishop, the clergy, and the people. I go all out with them and sometimes fear that I'll send the charcoals and the incense flying over the people. But I see this as a way to recall and to reverence the presence of God in all God's holy people gathered around the table, so that our prayers go up to God with the incense . It is also a recognition of the holiness that God has poured out over the People of God.

Incensing at the Mass of my ordination in July 2016.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Coffee, youth, clergy, and more - an update


We are in the midst of the coffee harvest. In the early morning and late in the afternoon, you’ve got to be careful driving. In the morning and the afternoon there are pickups and large trucks loaded with workers – from grandmothers to little kids – going out to harvest coffee. In the afternoon, crazy drivers with pickups full of bags of harvested coffee ply the roads, going slowly up hills and quickly around curves.

The coffee harvest, mostly from November to February, is one of the few times in the year when people of all ages can earn hard cash. Some will find work in the off-season in construction or work on the coffee plantations – pruning, fertilizing, and spraying for insects and plant diseases.

People are paid by the gallon, which is actually a five-gallon pail. Most growers pay 30 lempiras per galon, which is actually about $1.25. Most people harvest about five per day, but I’ve known of some young guys who can harvest ten or more.

The parish has two manzanas of coffee which is about 3.44 acres. In the last two weeks we’ve had three crews harvesting coffee. My guess is that we’ve harvested more than two thousand galones. I don’t know how that ends up in terms of grains of coffee, but it’s a lot.

I way “we” because I’ve been out harvesting two days and helped all three days on transporting the workers to and from the site and hauling the coffee to the place where the pulp is removed.

All of those who came are volunteers from the parish. They get lunch but are not paid. It is great to see young and old – and middle-aged – all helping the parish, since the proceeds will go to the parish budget.

Here are some more photos.

Moving coffee in berries from the truck to the depulper

As a deacon, I am a member of the clergy and so had to go to the clergy meeting in Santa Rosa de Copán on January 9 and 10 and as a representative to the diocesan Social Ministry Council I had to go to a meeting in Siguatepeque on January 16. As I grow older I find formal meetings less helpful, especially when they involve more than seven hours of driving (as did the trip to Siguatepeque). So it goes.

But I took advantage of the trip to Siguatepeque to go to a store run by the local Mennonites where they sell homemade cheese, yogurt, ice-cream, granola, bread, cookies, and more. I made sure that I had an ice-chest with me to bring back cheese and yogurt!

But a real delight was seeing a stupendous sunset. I left Siguatepeque about 4:00 pm. As I passed by Yaramanguila, Intibucá, I noted a beautiful sunset about 5:20 pm, I noted a beautiful sky to my left. I stopped to take a photo. All of a sudden a car stopped beside me, some friends from Santa Rosa.

I proceeded on going up one side of a mountain and down another. The sky kept changing, becoming more and more brilliant – with reds, oranges, yellows mingling with the blue, gray, and white of the clouds and the sky. It was incredibly beautiful – and helped me endure the long ride.

I took several pictures but there were pink highlights until the sun disappeared completely behind the mountains.


I already wrote about the retreat workshop we had for leaders of youth in five villages. I’m hoping to contact all the leaders so that we can have a meeting at the end of this month to plan a parish-wide youth encounter on Sunday, February 12.

I also hope to be able to visit each group in the next six weeks or so. One problem is that most have their meetings on Sundays at 5 pm. I have not yet learned to bi-locate!


Since the beginning of January, I’ve preached a good number of times, I served as deacon at the deanery’s celebration of the World Day of Prayer for Peace on January 7, I’ve baptized a number of young people, and today I have two Celebrations of the Word with Communion – one for the ninth day after a death in one village, the other for the anniversary of a death a year ago.

Epiphany morning we celebrated in La Colonia San José Obrero

Beside that I spoke with the university students from Briar Cliff University who were in Gracias to help with building the parish retreat center there.

This Saturday the diocese will end the celebration of its 100 years as a diocese.

Today I had time to check out the scholarship applications to see if we had enough money. St. Thomas has been providing scholarships for students enrolled in the alternative program for middle school and high school, Maestro en Casa. The students study at home with books and radio programs and then meet with teachers on the weekend.

And I’ve also had time to do some reading, finishing Daniel Berrigan's Ten Commandments for the Long Haul and Segundo Galilea's  Temptation and Discernment.

I also have, occasionally, eaten more healthily than normal. Here's a photo of my New Year's Day meal: omelet (with muenster cheese and chives), plantains, and oven baked potatoes (with garlic and rosemary).

Life is good. God blesses us - and provides, day after day, beautiful views of a beautiful country.