Monday, January 07, 2008

Padre Fausto

Two or three weekends a month I spend in the rural parish of Dulce Nombre. But when I am home on Sunday morning I go to Mass at the nearby chapel of San Martín de Porres. The church serves this area of the cathedral parish in the upper part of the city and has its own council, mostly composed of leaders of the local base communities.

Most Sundays Padre Fausto Milla, a youthful 80 year old Honduran priest, celebrates Mass. Padre Fausto is known for his advocacy of a healthy diet, eating local fruits and vegetables, and often rails against Coca Cola and chips, which abound here.

In his celebration of the Eucharist Padre Fausto brings together a deep piety and a radical Gospel message. He is also a gentle man but often speaks strongly and prophetically. This Sunday, the feast of the Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men to worship Jesus, was no exception.

He can be very “folksy,” as he comments on the readings. After the first reading, Isaiah 60:1-6, he asked the people what this meant for them. After eliciting several responses he commented that it’s like the weather. Today, after four days of clouds, rain and mist, the sun has appeared. And so today we speak of Jesus, the Sun, the light.

The Gospel tells of the wise men, the Magi, following the star. But, he asked what happened when they got to Jerusalem. There was no star for they were seeking Jesus in the wrong place. he compared Jerusalem to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras – where, he aid, government leaders are getting their good salaries, but….

After finding out that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, Herod met secretly with the Magi – perhaps, Padre Fausto said, so that others would not go with them to reverence the new born king. And then Herod told them to report back so he could come and worship the child. “Lies,” Padre Fausto said. he’s like to politicians who use the name of God in everything, especially in political campaigns, but don’t really worship God. For them it’s not “Primero Dios” – a popular expression that means “God first.” It’s money, power, and then, somewhere down the list, God.

He recalled how there are those who invoke God’s name but have been involved in repression, including the assassinations, disappearances, and tortures that plagued Honduras in the 1980s. He mentioned a president and general who were responsible for much of the repression. The general cam in for particular derision, for he later joined an evangelical church but never asked pardon from the people of Honduras for his crimes.

His harsh words are rooted in his experience. In the early eighties he was captured by death squads.. Though he was not tortured, he could hear the cries of others being tortured in the prison where they were held. Several months after being released, he fled to Mexico where he remained for about four years.

The homily ended with a call for the people to care for the starving here in Honduras and to be involved in true politics.

After the prayer of the faithful he went and had a child remove the image of the Christ Child from the Christmas crib. He then stood in front of the altar and invited people to come and reverence the image with a kiss or a touch. It was moving to see the people come forward, children, old people, even a recent university graduate (who plays in a rock band). For him it is important that the people express their faith not only politically but in their commitment to Jesus and to the Kingdom of God.

This combination of radical politics and popular piety might seem unusual to some in the US, but this is what I have seen among many people here. This is also what makes Dorothy Day such an attractive witness; she was just as comfortable saying the Rosary and going to Mass as she was speaking out for the poor and standing on a picket line.

But now – How can I make both piety and commitment to the poor more central in my daily life?

No comments: