Monday, April 06, 2015

Dulce Nombre parish coffee in the US - coming soon

Tonight I received good news for a small coffee coop of 15 small producers in the village of El Zapote Santa Rosa in the Dulce Nombre parish.

Samples of their coffee were toasted and tasted (cupped) in the US and we have some buyers.

The coop calls itself “Café hasta el Futuro “ which can be translated as “Coffee towards the future” or, maybe better, “Coffee looking forward”.

The price of coffee for small producers now is about 80 cents a pound. That makes life really hard for the producers.

More than a year ago Tyler Zoz, a young man, graduate of Iowa State University, came to the parish with Fr. Jon Seda from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. He had the dream of finding a way to market coffee from small farmers in the parish to help them get good prices.

He talked to two guys – one of whom, José, followed up with people in his village, El Zapote de Santa Rosa.

The 15 small coffee farmers are forming a cooperative – which will help them work together to improve their crops as well as to market the coffee.

Some of the first members (though some have dropped out.)
They did manage to send some samples to Eleos Coffee, in Kansas City, Missouri, a small toaster and distributor of coffee. They were interested in the coffee. But, of course, no coffee was available to be sent in mid-2014.

They meet about once a month to decide what to do.

They have been able to get one solar dryer from a Honduran agency and would like more.

Recently we had ten of the coffee farmers send soil samples to a lab to be tested. We are waiting for the results and the recommendations to improve the soil.

The group already had a fund-raising event last year – a Carrera de Cintas.

José in the carrera
Four of them went with me to La Unión, Lempira, to see the work of Aldea Development, a small US group helping local coffee farmers and exporting coffee.

In La Unión with Patrick of Aldea Development 
They will be working through the channels to organize themselves legally, probably with the help of Caritas of the Santa Rosa diocese.

In January we brought samples to a processor and exporter in San Pedro Sula. The samples were not sent until March, 2015.  But today I got good news which I shared by telephone with José.

Of the producers, only 4 have enough coffee to send, though several other sent samples.  These four, in addition, also had a tasting (cupping) done here in Honduras. 

Dan of Eleos Coffee liked those four. To quote his e-mail:
…the four farmers that are ready to export are solid coffees scoring in the low to mid 80's.  They were consistent in the roast, had nice body and a balanced acidity that to me translated into a pleasant brightness, with a sweet maple aroma and in the cup a natural citrus and hazelnut.
So Café hacia el futuro will be in the United States – a small, but very important step to helping a few farmers get better prices for their labor.

Thank God. Thank Tyler and Dan Smith from Eleos Coffee. Thank all those involved. And thank the producers. And thank the anonymous donor who is helping us with some of the costs here.

This is good news.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

A real vigil to celebrate Easter

Holy Saturday morning the church in Dulce Nombre was busy.

Some were preparing more than 1,000 for those who would come to the Easter Vigil.


Others prepared the church and the Paschal Candle.

Our Easter vigil in Dulce Nombre began in a soccer field at least two kilometers from the church in Dulce Nombre.

The firewood arrived late, but the Easter fire was lit about 6:30 pm. After a few words (from me), lots of singing, the blessing of the fire and the Paschal candle preceded the procession to the church.

There are often fierce winds during Holy Week – and so most of our candles were snuffed out as we walked to the church. My guess it that there more than 800 of us - maybe as many as 1,000.

We got to the church at about 8:00 pm and waited until the Paschal candle entered the church.

Then chaos ensued. Despite having put string where the catechumens and their godparents were to sit, I found myself policing the seats and asking people to leave so that the catechumens could have seats. Despite my efforts about 15 catechumens stood or sat on the floor for most of the vigil.

The vigil proceeded with the Exultet. the Easter Proclamation, and all the readings. The singing of the Gloria was “glorious” with the ringing of the church bells and joyful singing.

About 10:00 the baptisms began and continued until midnight – all 102 or so of them. During that time tamales were shared.

I was pleased to see the work of so many catechists in preparing these mostly young people. But I was also very pleased to see a good number of special needs people being baptized and receiving their first communion.

Those baptized also received their first communion and so the Vigil Mass ended about 1:30 am – 7 hours after the Fire was blessed.

I returned to Plan Grande with a car full of people, arriving about 2:30 am.

As we turned into Plan Grande, we noticed that about 15 people from La Torrera had been dropped off there and were starting to walk three hours to their village.

When I left off the people in Plan Grande, I asked if someone would accompany me to take the people to the turn off to their village, thus cutting off about two hours of walking. Isaías gladly joined me – what a good young man.

The people were surprised and quite happy when I pulled up behind them and honked the horn.

I let them off at the junction and they started walking home – arriving at 4:30 instead of 6:30 am.

What dedication of people to live their faith.

I got to bed at 3:30 am – and will spend the day with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters in Gracias Lempira.

The Easter Vigil was long – but another sign of light in the midst of the darkness that often surrounds the life of people here in rural Honduras.

Christ is risen, indeed – in the lives of so many here in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

Photos from Holy Week in the Dulce Nombre parish can be found here.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday: with the poor and the infirm

I woke up about 6:00 am in Agua Buena on Good Friday. After two cups of coffee and about an hour of reading psalms, I walked around the village. 

They were preparing for the Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross. A tradition they have there is to prepare fourteen large crosses in the road, decorated with flowers. The crosses are made of jiote, also known as indio desnudo (the naked Indian) or bursera simaruba.

I left Agua Buena about 8:00 am to get to El Bálsamo, one of the most remote and poor villages in the parish.

There I first visited an elderly woman to bring her Communion. Clementina will turn 100 in December and, tough she is weak, she is quite aware of what is happening. A woman of deep faith, she talked my ear off.

I was taken by the deep faith of this illiterate woman who has a deep love for God. Before leaving, I asked her to bless me. It was only appropriate.

I joined the Via Crucis – Stations of the Cross – at the third station.

They are using the stations we developed for the parish Via Crucis last Friday. One element of these stations is that we used this quote of Pope Francis this quote of Pope Francis (from his September 7, 2013 homily) at every station:
"My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken."
The village church leaders led the stations, but a little girl carried the cross for most of the procession.

At the end of the stations, we gathered in their small church. they asked me to say a few words.

For me one of the most important things to share with these people is that Christ is there suffering with them. There is a strong sense of Christ suffering for them and the salvation brought by the Cross (and Resurrection). But I think it is important to emphasize the presence of Christ with us in our sufferings – not to take them away, but to give us the courage to live – and even hope – in the midst of suffering.

I would soon see an example of this.

After sitting around and talking with some of the leader, I left for Delicias, Dolores. We got there early and I went to visit a sick couple.

As we approached the house I saw a good number of kids in the doorway and an older man (only 72) there. Juan Ángel’s arms were hanging by his side – probably the result of a stroke or other cause. He was quite friendly. My guide, Maximo, their son-in-law, brought out Juan’s wife, Josefina, who is blind and 74 years old. 

We spoke and I found out they had been married for 51 years! We talked and prayed and I shared the Eucharist with them. I made a point of talking to the grandchildren gathered at the door, urging them to take care of their grandparents. Maximo told me that though he would like to move to another place to make a better living, at the insistence of his wife they remain there to help these two frail, ill parents.

I was moved and told them we would pray for them at the service.

There were not a lot of people at the service, the Good Friday Liturgy. But it was a time full of grace.

After the service, I talked with a few of the folks, only to find out that two of them were going to get married in May.

I returned home to Plan Grande tired, but grateful for the chance to have spent these two days with the poor – especially with the sick.

As Christ accompanies us in our sorrow and suffering, I was gifted with the opportunity to accompany the poor and the sick – and to be blessed by a ninety-nine year old woman.

 This year Good Friday has taken on a new meaning - Christ Jesus suffering at our side. 

Holy Thursday: oil, water, Eucharist

When the parish began planning what to do for Holy Week in the villages, I asked Padre German where he wanted me to go. He told me to go where I wanted. But I insisted and so he sent me to three of the most remote and poor villages. So I celebrated Holy Thursday and Good Friday in Agua Buena, El Bálsamo, and Delicias in the municipality of Dolores.

Thursday started out with a trip into Santa Rosa de Copán for the Chrism Mass, the Mass where the bishop blesses the oils of catechumens and the sick and consecrates the Sacred Chrism used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordinations, and other special consecrations.

Two Communion ministers asked me or a ride and so I took Gloria with her son Eliú and Marco Tulio with his son Darlin.

They, with other communion ministers had visited villages where there is no communion minister, to bring communion to the sick and, if possible, to have a Celebration of the Word with Communion. I was humbled to hear how far they had gone and how much time they had put into their visits. On one day, Marco Tulio had walked four hours to go to two communities, accompanied by his son and another young man from their village.

The parish had encouraged each village to have a collection of basic food needs this week to give to families in need in their villages. Marco Tulio told me how El Zapote de Santa Rosa had gathered almost one hundred pounds of beans, rice, and other food. The generosity of the poor always surprises me.

The Chrism Mass was long – but there was one part that really touched me. The priest who carried in the Oil of the Sick had been very ill – with cancer, I think.

Bishop Andino and Deacon Manuel de Jesús distributing communion
I got to see a number of friends who live in Santa Rosa and also some priests I know but didn’t stay around after Mass since I had to get out to the village of Agua Buena.

 I got to Agua Buena about three pm and we started the celebration a little later.

Key to the Holy Thursday celebration is the Washing of the Feet.

Several places in the parish had the custom of re-enacting the Last Supper, complete with crackers and pop (or so to you non Mid-Westerners), followed by the washing of the feet.

Padre German and I decided that this practice should not be continued, especially where there are Communion ministers to distribute Communion.

In addition, I explained to the people that the washing of the feet is not a drama or an enactment of a past event. It is reliving what Jesus calls us to do. I consider the Washing to the Feet to be a sacramental – a sign that helps reveal the presence of God in our midst, but decided not to use that terminology with people here since it can easily be misunderstood. Yet they did understand that it is not a mere drama – it is a call to serve.

In Agua Buena they had 11 boys ready for the foot washing and were looking for another. I suggested they find a young woman – and they did.

I had the privilege to wash their feet. I noted the stubbed toes, probably due to ill-fitting shoes. And these were young people in their early and mid-teens.

After I washed the feet of the twelve, I decided to encourage others to come forward to wash the feet of others or let their feet be washed. 

It took a while for someone to step forward but finally a good number of men can forward.  Later, with a lot of encouragement, a number of women had their feet washed.

 Finally, realizing that I was being the most reluctant of all, I took off my shoe and let my foot be washed.

While I was encouraging some to come forward for the foot-washing, a woman commented that she was so sinful. I reminded her that Jesus washed the feet of both Peter and Judas. After a few minutes, she came forward to have her foot washed.

At the end of the celebration, at 5:30, I placed the Eucharist on the altar and invited the people to spend time on the next few hours, in slice with Jesus. I explained this was a way of accompanying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I told them that we could do this for two hours if they wanted. It ended up being three hours of quiet prayer by many members of the community.

At first, there was only one person praying before the altar. I wondered if the adoration would end early. But I was astounded by the incredible stillness one man maintained while praying on his knees before the altar.

But gradually people started arriving in groups of five or ten. The church was a real place of quiet prayer. Someone later told how important it was for them to have the opportunity to spend time before the Eucharist.

I went in and out of the church, spending some time in the area around the church talking with folks. I think I was a good source of entertainment for some guys when we saw a huge spider.

At about 8:15 the church was half-full. One of the lay leaders told me that we would end at 8:30 pm.

I decided that it might be good to have a closing prayer and so we prayed a shortened version of Compline, the night prayer of the church.

I soon went to bed.

So this Holy Thursday was full of little wonders, little signs of the presence of God and of faith in the people.

It was also a day when I challenged two guys who were living with a woman outside of marriage and had kids to consider getting married.  I have no idea why I have started this gentle encouragement to marriage, but I also continued this on Friday in another village.