The past two weeks have been fairly busy. In two weeks I’ll be leaving for a short visit to Iowa, especially to St. Thomas Aquinas, the parish which has been providing support for this ministry in Honduras. But there’s still a lot to do in the next two weeks.
The comedor de niños – the lunch program for poor kids is up and running. On September 10, the day of the Child here in Honduras, we had a special inauguration. I led the opening prayer., the bishop spoke, and there was a hearty snack for all who were there, including the 20 or so children present. Since then there have been between 15 and 22 kids each day. There are more needy kids but many are in school in the morning or living fairly far away. However, school ends in early November and I expect that more kids will be coming during the three months of vacation.
The Catholic University began classes September 17 for the last trimester of this year. The weekend before I was invited to a retreat for the Administrative staff, led by Father Roel Mejía who teaches at the university, provides counseling for students and others, directs the radio station, and also serves with his brother in a parish in Santa Rosa. it was a good time to get away, to have some special time for prayer, and to spend time with some of the administrative staff.
This trimester there are about 75 new students. Last Friday and Saturday was the first of the two new student retreats; the second will be this week. (The retreats are mandatory.) I’m helping out with both retreats, giving a talk and getting to meet some of the new students. The new coordinator fro campus ministry at the university has reorganized the retreat a bit and initiated other activities in campus ministry which will help improve the ministry – hopefully reaching out to more students. We’ll see where this leads.
My talk for the retreat is entitled “God’s Love.” I emphasizing the unconditional nature of God’s love, using the parable of the Prodigal Son. There are serious issues of low self-esteem here, on the one-hand, as well as pressures on the students to prove themselves. And so I start presentation with the question, “What is your worst fear?” (Hint: not being loved or lovable?)
The university started classes on Tuesday because Monday, September 15, is Central American Independence Day. There were events leading up to Monday – lots of parades of school kids. But the big event here was the parade of September 15 parade with the high schools and their bands. At the end of the parade more than 70 people marched behind the banner for the newly-formed Moviemiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia – the Broad-Based Movement for Dignity and Justice. The movement calls for justice, an end to corruption, and much more. As their presentation at the march’s end in the city’s central plaza, a small group did a poignant skit, parodying the corruption in the major political parties and other signs of corruption and injustice.
I think their present was important, especially in light of a strange event of the previous week. In the 1980s there were several death squads and para-military groups, often linked to the Honduran military, who intimidated, killed or disappeared hundreds of political opponents.. Last week a list of 130 people was found in the possession of two military officers in Tegucigalpa. One of the women on the list had recently been killed and her name was crossed out followed with the word “dead.” Whether this is a list of a paramilitary group or not, it’s another attempt to intimidate people who have raised questions about government and private sector policies. The list included, beside political and other leaders, the bishop of Santa Rosa, Monseñor Luís Alfonso Santos, who has spoken strongly against corruption and mining interests; Father José Andrés Tamayo in Olancho who has forcibly opposed illegal mining; and Father Ismael Moreno, a Jesuit from El Progresso who is active in the Movement mentioned above and edits a highly critical monthly alternative newspaper.
This past week was the week for those deprived of liberty. I as asked to speak to the women in the local jail about Mary and women in Honduras. I started noting how inadequate I was for this topic – I’m neither a Honduran or a woman. And so I asked them to tell me about the situation of women here. They talked about who women are marginalized, how they suffer, how they encounter machismo and lower salaries than men. But one woman strongly affirmed that women here are valiosa - valuable, in terms of all they do. I had planned to speak of Mary as valiente – courageous and noted that at the crucifixion the men had fled away, except for the beloved disciple, and that is was the women who were there. Mary had suffered many things and therefore we can see her as one who is present for and with all who suffer – an example of God’s merciful love in the face of fear, terror, and violence.
On Friday, I saw another example of compassion. For about a year I have been a member of a nearby base community. However, some neighbor are trying to start one in our immediate neighborhood. What impressed me about these folks is their sense of mission. They’ve gone and visited almost all the Catholics in the neighborhood. At last Wednesday night’s meeting, while reflecting on the scriptures of the day, we talked about the needs of the poor. Not intent on just talking, on Friday two couples and I went to visit a family that one couple had helped before. – a family with three kids, raised by their grandmother. the idea was to invite them to the comedor de niños. We went and found the youngest, a six year old with a cough, huddling in the cold by a small fire. The house was a tiny shack – not poverty, but misery! We talked a bit and then Francisco went and got some bread and fruit drinks to leave. The grandmother and a little girl arrived and we talked. Two of the kids go to school in the morning but the oldest goes in the afternoon and so can come to the comedor.
While I spoke to the grandmother about the comedor, the women talked about inviting the six year to come in the afternoons to play with their sons who are about the same age. I was moved by their willingness not just to help this family but to welcome the little boy to come into their homes. That evening at I laid in bed, I was really overwhelmed by the love these couples had shown.
These days people are harvesting elotes – the early harvest of corn that is eaten in tamales, in other food and drinks, as well as just like corn on the cob. It is not sweet, like sweet corn in Iowa or New Jersey, but it’s a great treat.