Saturday, August 29, 2009

Comments on Honduras

The delegation from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas that I accompanied in their visit here in Santa Rosa de Copán released a statement. It can be found at the Sisters of Mercy website.

The Franciscan Friars Minor (OFMs) in Honduras have also issued a recent statement. My translation can be found at my blog of translated church documents. The original Spanish version is on my Spanish blog.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dom Helder Câmara (1909-1999)

Dom Helder, the archbishop of the poor of his northeast Brazil diocese and of the world, died ten years ago today.

Small in stature, he was full of the energy of the Gospel incarnated among the poor. Advocate of liberation, he was a voice for active nonviolence – firmeza permanente, relentless persistence, in Portuguese. Wise, he loved the poor and simple of this world. A man of prayer, he did not fail to act. For this he was persecuted by the Brazilian dictatorship who were so afraid of him that they would not allow his name to be mentioned in the media in Brazil.

Here are a few quotes from an anthology of his writings, Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings, published by Orbis Books.
…if you are not on the side of the oppressed you are on the side of the oppressors.” (p. 45)

Without a deep personal conversion, no one can become an instrument for the conversion of the world. (p. 65)

If you disagree with me,
you have something to give me,
if you are sincere
and seek the truth
as best you may,
honestly, with modest care,
your thought is growth
to mine, correction,
you deepen my vision. (pp. 99-100)

I know a priest who likes to shake hands with the trash collectors when they are loading the refuse onto the truck. They try to clean their hands on their clothes. The priest, tightly, says: “No work stains human hands. What makes hands dirty is stealing, or greed, or the blood of our neighbors!” (p. 143)

Today Christ tells us that it isn’t enough to distribute bread to those who haven’t got any. The essential thing is to work towards the creation of a more just world, in which there will no longer be a minority owning too much, among such multitudes of hungry people. (p. 159)

Dom Helder also noted, “When I gave food to the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a communist.”

Dom Helder, intercede for us now at the Fountain of Grace, that God may give us the courage and persistence to struggle for justice and peace for all God’s people – especially those most in need.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What’s wrong – and right – with Honduras?

Wednesday I facilitated part of a workshop on Catholic Social Teaching in Las Flores, Lempira, for sixteen pastoral workers in the parish of Lepaera.

Monday, the administrator of Caritas Santa Rosa asked me to do part of the workshop since she had to help with an audit by the national Caritas office. I said yes, even though what she asked me to cover I’d never taught.

I spent much of Monday and Tuesday preparing material on the Latin American bishops’ conference 2007 meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Charity in Truth, as well as the Honduran bishops’ 2006 pastoral letter. Fortunately I had read all of the documents and had some resources on some of them.

So, I prepared presentations – including three power points. When we got to the church we found that we couldn’t get the projector to work – and then the power went off for a bit. Back up plan – improvise!

Those who know me know that I like to have everything well-planned. But I’m learning to improvise – and today it worked. It also helped me to be much more participative.

At one point, I explained the methodology used by much of Latin American theology and pastoral work that springs from the option for the poor – See, Judge, Act. Then, at the suggestion of one of the participants, we did a short session where four small groups made a list of 8 to 10 problems in Honduras. I did this before we examined the analysis found in the Honduras bishops’ statement.

What did they say? Among the problems identified were: Corruption (3), poverty (3), the coup d’etat (3), education (3), alcohol and drugs (3), the environment (2), the economic crisis (2), violation of human rights (2), partisan politics (1), disregard for the human person (2), religious leaders against the poor (1), migration (1), violence (2).

Of course, this is a totally biased sample. These men and women are mostly involved in social ministry in a parish with a fairly radical priest who was openly advocating the cuarta urna, the ballot question about a constitutional convention.

But I found their remarks quite insightful and non-ideological. In regard to education I heard a critique of the teachers for not teaching and going out all to often for strikes. (Another young man had previously told me he couldn’t go past sixth grade because he can’t afford it.) Explaining the problem of religious leaders against the poor one person said this was not just about higher-ups but about people in the church as a whole.

After looking at their lists, it is clear that they parallel the remarks of the Honduran bishops in 2006:
Critical points about our reality
The elimination of poverty and the development of our people face obstacles which appear insolvable, including:
  • Inequality in the generation and distribution of wealth;
  • The low quality and insufficient coverage in education;
  • The lack of attention to health services;
  • Irrational exploitation of our natural resources and illegal utilization (taking advantage) of these resources;
  • Widespread corruption;
  • Theft of the goods of the State;
  • Forgetting the common good, justice, and solidarity and loss of the sacred value of human life.
All these not only cause a continuous impoverishment of our people but they also produce a constant flow of Honduras out of the country in search of better living conditions.

A society with weak institutions.
The construction of a strong nation demands the strengthening of State institutions. They are weakened by the populism and the politicization of these very institutions; by the high incidence of corruption which brings about in the population disbelief and lack of confidence in institutions and those who lead them; by the impunity which weakens the state of law, putting the law at the service of private interests and laying aside its principal function of guaranteeing and assuring harmony in the local, regional and national community; by physical violence which increases insecurity among the people and demonstrates that life is not valued or respected.
I am really glad I had the chance to hear their voices. But I also want people to know that only one of the persons in the workshop had more than six years of formal education.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Thomas Merton in a letter to some students:
I believe sometimes that God is sick of the rich people and the powerful and wise men of the world and that He is going to look elsewhere and find the underprivileged, those who are poor and have things very hard; even those who find it most difficult to avoid sin; and God is going to come down and walk among the poor people of the earth, among those who are unhappy and sinful and distressed and raise them up and make them the greatest saints and send them walking all over the universe with the steps of angels and the voices of prophets to bring his light back into the world again.
Thomas Merton, to Sister Marialein Lorenz’s class, 6/2/49

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Honduran Coup:
Where is the Church?

I have put off writing on this topic, but Friday, August 21, a group from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas was here in Santa Rosa de Copán and I had arranged for them to speak with Padre Fausto Milla and with Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, the bishop. Listening to Padre Fausto and Monseñor Santos moved me to break the silence.

Many people in Honduras have been scandalized by the Honduran Bishops’ Conference July 4 statement and the remarks of Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez after he read the statement and in several interviews he gave the following week. Many were especially disturbed that he read the bishops' statement and added his own remarks on the "cadena" - the simultaneous broadcast on all Honduran radio and television stations, mandated by the de facto government - and that the mandatory broadcast was repeated numerous times.

Why has the cardinal virtually given support to the coup? He denies this and even said “I am the first to reject the coup d’état.” But it is hard to see his severe critiques of the deposed president Mel Zelaya – some of them warranted – and the lack of critiques of the de facto president Roberto Micheletti as anything less than a support of the change of government.


The cardinal has insisted that the bishops’ conference statement is the work of the whole conference. It is signed by all the bishops, but who wrote the statement ? It is mostly the work of the cardinal and a draft included a statement that what happened was not a coup. The document was modified at the bishops' meeting and the statement that what happened was not a coup was dropped in part because Bishop Santos of Santa Rosa indicated that he would not sign a document that explicitly included such an assertion.

On Thursday, July 2, the bishops were called to meet the next day. By that time, the Cardinal had obtained information from the government on the process of “succession of power” – even giving the bishops arrest warrant materials.

It is important to know that only four of the eleven Honduras bishops are Honduran nationals – the cardinal, his two auxiliary bishops, and Bishop Santos. The others are missionaries from Canada, Spain, Panamá, Malta, and the US. Also, all but three of the bishops were ordained by the Cardinal.

The cardinal and his auxiliaries, from fairly well-to-do families with connections to the Nationalist party, do not see what happened as a coup. Bishop Santos calls it a coup as do many religious and lay groups in the Honduran church.

Some have suggested that the bishops should have waited a bit longer to consider a statement and examine the documents. For example, the arrest warrant was dated June 26, two days before the coup. So there is some concern about possible falsification of documents.

Furthermore, Bishop Santos now questions using the charge that Zelaya planned to change the constitution so that he could have a second term as a justification for the "coup". You can’t judge a person on the “presumption of a crime;” you need an act, he noted.

Bishop Santos further said that he would be out in the streets if Zelaya tried to continue as president after his term ended, since that would be unconstitutional. But, as many have said, there was no proof from Zelaya that the proposal to put a question in the November elections on a Constitutional Constituent Assembly was for the purpose of extending his term of office.

Very interestingly, related to the issue of a national constituent assembly, the bishops of Honduras had in a June 19 document affirmed the need for public consultations on serious matters but subtly opposed the June 28 referendum in terms of its legality.


But why is the cardinal so insistent that there was not a coup and why is he so critical of President Mel Zelaya?

The cardinal has had a great fear that Honduras would become another Venezuela and that President Hugo Chávez was using President Zelaya for this purpose. In an August 2008 interview, the Cardinal expressed his concern about “new totalitarian dictatorships,” referring not only to Venezuela, but also to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. He then proceeded to condemn “the so-called Boliviarian socialism” as a “hidden capitalism… a capitalism for a few who hold power and who use it as a means to keep themselves in power.”

The cardinal also detected a campaign of “class hatred,” fomented by Venezuela, the weeks before the coup, but I don’t really know to what he was referring – unless it is to the detraction he has suffered.

The conflict between the Cardinal and Chávez goes back at least two years when a statement about dictators – that they are blind and deaf and see themselves as gods – was taken as a reference to Chávez. In turn, Chávez, not prone to understatement, called the Cardinal “a parrot of imperialism… an imperialist clown.” An apology from Chávez followed.

But I believe that fear drove the Cardinal’s thinking and actions.

But Bishop Santos, in his August 21 meeting with the Sisters of Mercy delegation, noted that in the face of oppression we can always count on faith in Jesus. Acting in fear is not acting with faith. “We have to accept change.”


The Cardinal has been critiqued as a “golpista,” a supporter of the coup, even in the week before he read the Honduran Bishops Conference statement. There have been caricatures of the cardinal on the walls of Tegucigalpa as well as on the internet. There have been all sorts of charges, some of which verge on calumny, many of which are character assassination.

There was the charge that he was receiving a large monthly salary (100,000 lempiras – about $5000) from the government, offered to him in December 2001 by then president Carlos Flores Facussé (who, many believe, is one of the intellectual authors of the coup). However, a monthly gift was offered the Cardinal shortly after he named cardinal, designated for the institutional expenses of the “cardinalate.” It was probably thought that there would be more expenses for his more prominent role in the Church. But, according to reliable sources, the cardinal only received the money once.

(President Carlos Flores also offered money to Bishop Santos of Santa Rosa for the repair of the obispado, the bishops’ residence and office. Bishop Santos refused the money.)

It should be noted that the cardinal has been an outspoken proponent of debt relief and so this has helped Honduras, which has been declared a HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country) which allowed for some major debt relief. It has also been suggested that the gift might have also been a recognition of the cardinal’s service to the country.

But this campaign of character assassination cannot hide the connection that the cardinal has with the rich in the country. He may feel that he owes some of them debts for their support of the archdiocese.

It must be noted, also, that the Cardinal is seen by many as a voice for the concerns of the poor, especially in his role in Caritas International. He has also been critical of the open-pit mining in the Valle de Siria, outside of Tegucigalpa. But many believe that he has been tied more closely to the rich.

He has also been publicly critical of his brother bishop, Monseñor Santos, who has gone out in the streets with his people in opposition to open pit mining. For his strong opposition to mining and identification with the movements against it, the Cardinal accused Bishop Santos of dividing the episcopal conference.


More could be written about the current situation of the church in Honduras. For now, it is important to remember that while the Cardinal’s words, based on his fears, are all too often taken as the only point of reference, others in the church – important voices in the church – see things differently.

There is, for example, the statement of the Conference of Men and Women Religious of Honduras (CONFEREH). It has been widely circulated on the web but has not been released publicly because the Cardinal refused to authorize its publication. It seems that he thinks it's not part of the mission of consecrated religious to make public statements of this kind.

There have also been statements from the Santa Rosa de Copán Diocesan Pastoral Council and the presbytery of the diocese of Trujillo. In the Santa Rosa message, released two days before the cardinal’s appearance on national television and radio, they “ repudiate the substance, the form, and the style with which a new Head of the Executive Branch has been imposed on the People.” Also, recently there have been several interviews of Santa Rosa bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, who has publicly called those behind the coup thieves and gangsters.

The witnesses of priests like Padre Fausto Milla from Santa Rosa de Copán, the Jesuit Padre Melo Moreno, and the environmentalist Padre Andrés Tamayo are notable exceptions to the silence of many of the clergy.


The situation in Honduras is complex – as is the situation of the church. But, as the Central America Dominican provincial wrote in a recent letter of solidarity, “ ... we do not believe that the principal conflict is only between Zelaya and Micheletti. We believe that there is a real confrontation between those who hold on to their own economic interests and those who defend new alternative models which try to incorporate the interests of the majority.”

There has to be change that allows the poor to participate in the economy and politics of Honduras – but also promotes reconciliation and real dialogue. A church-based effort in Honduras to secure peace and reconciliation based in justice is what is most needed at this time.

And so it gave me great joy to see two You-Tube videos of the prayer at the August 11 demonstration in San Pedro Sula. Padre Fausto Milla gave the sermon but there were at least six priests vested in alb and stole and two more just with stoles, as well as two sisters in habit, on the stage. Padre Fausto spoke strongly, not only against the coup, but he also issued a call for peace, “Brothers [and sisters], let us make peace and not violence. Repression can only be fought and overcome through peace. Here we do not have to face the oppressor families, we do not have any famous last names. The police are our brothers, they are López, they are Ramos, they are Pérez." In addition, before reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the priest leading the prayer encouraged the people to take the hands of those next to them – even the hands of the police.

The church in Honduras must continue to listen to the voices of the poor and the marginalized so that their voices may be heard, while reaching out to all so that justice and reconciliation may come.

Love and truth will meet;
justice and peace will kiss;
truth will spring from the earth;
and justice will look down from heaven.
Psalm 85: 11-12

last slight revision, August 25, 9:50 am

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Tree Nursery Project

Saturday I joined Norma Cruz, a Caritas worker with several communities on community management of disaster risks, to take materials to the village of Cementera in the municipality of Lepaera, in the department of Lempira.

As part of that project Caritas is helping them begin a tree nursery in their community, not only to plant trees there but also to sell to gain some funds to promote the sustainability of the project.

We arrived at 10:30, about ninety minutes late, but the people were still there and had cleared the land where the nursery would be. The people had chosen the land just behind the church and had worked with Norma on the design and the list of needed materials.

After unloading the materials from the pickup, I began helping them fill the plastic bags for the seeds and seedlings. Men, women, and even little kids filled the 1500 bags. Meanwhile others were laying out the contours of the nursery and digging holes for the posts. I’d guess there were more than 30 people working at the site.

We stopped about noon for lunch. When we came back the work continued. The needed to get some limbs for the beams and so a group of about 15 men and boys was organized to go out and find some.

The work was almost finished when we left about 4:15 pm. It lacks black netting, but should be available for use very soon.

What impressed me was the way the people worked together and the initiative that the people showed in their work. This wasn’t a case of an aid worker planning and deciding all the details of the project. The people helped with the design. They organized themselves to get it done. They even talked about some types of trees they might want to grow.

On the way up we passed through one village near Cementera. Last year, during the major tropical storm that hit Honduras in October, the people in that village went up to the people in Cementera, seeking their help to deal with the risks of landslides and more. Cementera was seen as a model for how to work in the face of disaster.

This is what aid work needs to do: provide people with tools – sometimes just the picks and shovels, sometimes organizational tools – so that they can begin to take charge of their own lives as a community.

Cementera is one example. There are problems – with some divisions in the community – but they have taken major steps. God willing, other villages will have these opportunities.

The nearly completed nursery

Photos from my photo set on the Cementera nursery project at Flickr.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The real conflict in Honduras?

The provincial of the Central American Dominicans and two others visited Honduras recently. After their visit they sent a letter of solidarity to their brother Dominican friars in Honduras. One paragraph is worth noting:
Although we, together with you, call for the return of President Zelaya as constitutional president of Honduras, we do not believe that the principal conflict is only between Zelaya and Micheletti. We believe that there is a real confrontation between those who hold on to their own economic interests and those who defend new alternative models which try to incorporate the interests of the majority.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Going out to the campo

Caritas has a number of projects in the countryside. Getting there is often quite an adventure and since there are not enough drivers in Caritas I’ve been asked to drive some of the workers out more often. This will also give me a way to connect more with the projects and see exactly what they are doing. Also, this cuts down their costs since they don’t have to pay a driver.

Today, Thursday, I went with the other Juan in Caritas – Juan the Cuban! Yes, the Gringo and the Cubano together, both working with the Catholic Church. Juan works with the project on promotion of citizen participation in the municipality of Las Flores, Lempira. This project helps people find ways to participate locally – with commissions of transparency and public hearings – as well as how to form small groups and work on projects.

Today he was working with the people in the village of El Ladino to help them with a project for the protection and better utilization of the micro-cuenca – the small watershed – that serves them and other communities. There’s a process that he explained to them. Luckily there are three high school students who are doing their internship will help in the data gathering. But it’s quite an intense process.

Many of the people in the community have little formal education and so it takes a lot of effort for them to navigate through the legal processes to be able to protect their watershed and provide better water for their community. The water has a lot of sediment, as you can see from the photo of the pila - the water tank by the house where we had the meeting.

The trip in was uneventful – though I felt rather tense as we crossed a hammock bridge in the truck – with only a few inches on either side. (Though the cable are steel,the roadbed was wooden slats!) When we returned, though, I misjudged and hit one of the columns the with the side front bumper. I wonder if they’ll let me drive again!

I seem to always attract the attention of the little kids – sometimes it’s trying to avoid the camera or be captured by it. But it must be quite the thing to have someone from the US visit.

What struck me was the presence at the meeting of a young guy who wasn’t on the local water project team or village council. He seemed very interested. We talked a little and I found out that he only has had three years of school. I think he’d like to leave the village to find a job in town, but would this be another loss to the village?

A crucial issue, I see, is how to help people live with dignity in their villages, how to help them be the agents of positive social change there. But the deck seems to be stacked against them, especially in this part of Honduras.

Later this month I hope to get out to the department of Intibucá, one of the poorest parts of the diocese, to do some preliminary research into what the people in a few of the poorest municipalities could develop to improve their lives.

Today’s visit just made me want to do this even more.

Photos at my set of El Ladino photos on Flickr.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Father Richard Nixon?

Today I went out to Vera Cruz, Copán, since there was a get together of people from the communities in that sector of the parish of Dulce Nombre. I arrived late but in time to participate in some of the singing and see two of the dramas before Padre Julio César Galdámez arrived for Mass.

Was I in for a surprise!

A group of young people from the village of El Ocote presented a drama on the problem of alcohol sales, especially to minors, in the rural villages. Alcohol, binge drinking, and alcoholism are real problems here, especially in the villages. Many people in the church try to have the municipality pass a ley seca, a law that would declare the village dry, prohibiting the sale of liquor.

In the skit, a woman in a grotesque mark was selling tatascán, the strongest moonshine available, to three young guys who proceeded to get drunk and roll around on the floor. A catechist came to her and tried to get her to convert, to desist from selling guaro, moonshine. She said no and the catechist said he’d have to send in the priest.

The priest arrives in what look like an old cassock and stole – with a Richard Nixon mask.

I don’t know where they got the mask, but I was the only one there who caught the incongruity. I’m laughing as I write this. “Tricky Dick” as a priest? By the way, he converted her and she stopped selling liquor and came to church!

Father Julio celebrated Mass and noted in his homily the sad state of the church and the town of Vera Cruz. Vera Cruz is the main town of the municipality, but it has no paved streets that I saw. The church itself is badly in need of repair or replacement. (From what I know a Protestant church in Des Moines is seriously considering helping this project.) In places the outside plaster is gone, revealing the adobe. Inside part of the wood false ceiling has been removed and other parts reveal how rotten it is.

As Mass began I noticed an old woman on the other side of the church, barefoot and with a disfigured face. She clapped enthusiastically during the first hymn. She reminded me of the poverty here - and the enduring faith of the poor!

- - -

What’s happening in the rest of the country?

There was violence at some of the demonstration in Tegucigalpa last week. There are some who say there were infiltrators planted to undermine the demonstration. That is very possible, remembering how there were provocateurs in the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in the US.

It is also very possible that some hot-headed young people just decided to attack what appeared as symbols of the coup – fast food franchises largely owned by members of the rich elite who are behind the coup.

This also is what probably happened the other day when a member of the Congress was attacked by some demonstrators near the Congress building.

But what is troubling is the violence being used by the police against demonstrators. Friday reporters and a lawyer at a demonstration in Choloma near San Pedro Sula were beaten. What next?

As to negotiations or mediations to solve the crisis?

The de facto government seems to be doing a lot of stalling. The Organization of American States was supposed to come here this week, but it’s now postponed to sometime later this week.

The US ambassador to Honduras, who has called what happened a coup, left the country to go to Washington. The de facto president remarked that “it appears that he left for vacation… I hope he doesn’t return.” And he wants recognition from the US government?

What next?


The photos in this entry and other photos from Vera Cruz can be found at

Friday, August 14, 2009

Padre Fausto - a priest in service of the poor: their justice and their health

I have written in previous posts about Padre Fausto, an extraordinary priest who is not only a man with a deep piety but a priest in service of the poor. He's not afraid to say what he believes and his long Sunday sermons at the church of San Martín de Porres often touch the political and economic reality of the country. He is also not afraid to touch on issues of diet and nutrition, as well as the manipulation of fiestas - such as the August festivals here in honor of Santa Rosa de Lima - into excuses for consumerism and drinking festivals.

Padre Fausto is also a very warm and compassionate person, with a strong Eucharistic piety, characteristic of many Hondurans in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. Last year a friend visited and we went to Mass. I was hoping he'd speak somewhat politically since my friend is very involved. However, he gave one of the warmest homilies I'd ever heard him preach. He's truly a man with many sides.

Below I offer a translation of a January 2007 article on Padre Fausto. It is good to recall that his recent prominence - speaking at the July 5 rally in Tegucigalpa and at the August 11 Mass and rally in San Pedro Sula - has roots in his life-long commitment to Christ and the poor.

Padre Fausto Milla:
in service of health and the poor

Previously persecuted as a subversive, today he is an expert in natural medicine and has been nominated for an international award.

Two decades ago, no one could imagine that Padre Fausto Milla would be recognized for his social work for the poor, since in the seventies and the beginning of the eighties his evangelizing work provoked the police and the army to persecute him as if he were a common criminal.

In his parish of Corquín, Copán, [Honduras], composed mostly of campesinos and indigenous, he started to organize the people to defend their human rights and to recover the value of their culture. For this he was the victim of threats, persecution and arrests. This state of affairs obliged him to leave the country to seek refuge in Mexico where he expanded and perfected his knowledge of natural medicin . Today this dangerous “guerrilla” in the eyes of the army and the National Office of Criminal Investigations [DINA] has become a source of life through natural medicine.

For his contribution to food sovereignty and security, the National Alliance against Hunger awarded him on October 2003, the National Food Prize. Presently he is nominated for the Bartolomé de las Casas Award which America House of Spain awards to people or institutions which are outstanding in promoting, protecting, and respecting the cultures of indigenous peoples. His candidacy arose from campesino sectors and from the popular movements.

His childhood

Fausto Milla was born in Guarita, Lempira, October 22, 1927, the second of the five children of José María Milla and Trinidad Nuñez.

“The Millas are a s Spanish family which stayed here and from his youth my father lived an intense struggle. Guarita is a Lenca town which was invaded by the Spanish, who live in the center of town, own the businesses and are always the mayors. One time, the Indians rose up against the whites and my father, even though he was not an Indian, joined then,” related the priest.

During the dictatorship of Tiburcio Carías Andino, his father had to flee to El Salvador; the family was left with nothing since his possessions were confiscated and “the only riches my mother was left with were four children and a fifth about to be born. I remember that one day we slept in the house of a Mr. Mardoqueo in the little village called La Majada; for giving us a place to stay he demanded a cow as a fine.”

His education

When he was five years old he studied music with the teacher Benjamín Rivera, where he learned to read music. A year later he began studies in the Manuel Bonilla Primary School in his native town.

There was no secondary education in Guarita. His mother didn’t have the resources to send him to another place but a priest friend in El Salvador helped him study in a high school in Santa Tecla, [El Salvador]. He stayed there two years. Later, as a Marist brother, he traveled to Colombia to work and continue studying.

He returned to Guatemala in 1950 and stayed there for ten years; after this he lived in El Salvador and four years later he traveled to Rome where he participated in the opening of the [Second]Vatican Council in 1962.

In 1963 he returned to El Salvador and later to his native town to care for his mother until she died. He traveled again to Colombia and in August 1968, together with 200 other Latin Americans, he was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI.

His return as a priest

Ordained a priest, he returned to Honduras. The bishop of the diocese of [Santa Rosa de] Copán assigned him – on loan – to the Capuchin priests who served [parishes in the department of] Ocotopeque and part of Lempira. He was named pastor of Guarita where there were many border problems.

This is where he was when Salvadoran troops invaded Honduras in 1969. “I had to suffer that war of thieves, murderers, and lechers; I suffered deeply when the Salvadorans took down the Honduran flag in the school where I had studied in order to raise the Salvadoran flag; it appears to be a small detail, but it struck me hard,” he stated.

His stay in Guarita was short, since he was moved by the diocese on August 22, 1970, to the parish of Corquín, Copán, with a flock made up mostly of campesinos. From the moment he first arrived, he was rejected by the merchants who created division in the church and formed a group, called “Catholics United, of those who didn’t like the guidance which the new priest was giving to the people. But most of the people accompanied the priest in his struggle to improve the conditions of life for the population. He stayed here until November 1982.


While he was pastor of Corquín Padre Milla also served as director of CARITAS of the diocese. His work in organizing the communities and protecting Salvadoran refugees provoked the military and both the secret and uniformed police to continually persecute him.

An important event in the life of Padre Fausto was the Sumpul River massacre, on Wednesday, May 14, 1980. About 600 people who lived in the same area and were fleeing from the Salvadoran caserios of San Jacinto and La Arada, were killed by Salvadoran and Honduran military and police. The massacre ended at 4 pm. On Thursday, May 15, Honduran campesinos searched the area of the massacre and rescued the survivors. The armies had [by then] left the area.

Sunday, May 24, from his parish in Corquín, father denounced the massacre. The news was officially ignored and, because of government pressure, the story did not circulate in the news media. But a month later he again made a public denunciation, this time backed by 36 priests and sisters, together with the bishop of [Santa Rosa de] Copán, Monseñor José Carranza Chevez; they held both armies responsible for the massacre.

[Honduran] President Policarpo Paz García called the denunciation slanderous and irresponsible; he denied the massacre and threatened to expel from the country the foreign priests and sisters who signed the declaration. Nevertheless, the Honduran Bishops Conference, presided over by Monseñor Hector Enrique Santos, stood behind the accusation.

The Honduran army took control of the Sumpul region to avoid dissemination of the news of the massacre; survivors who showed their documents to priests or journalists [to identify themselves were later disappeared; and at least twice in May the Salvadoran army made forays into Honduran territory.

The army and the police accused Padre Fausto of organizing groups of guerrillas and storing weapons. They often searched the rectory in Corquín, and the churches in Belén Gualcho and Sensenti, Ocotepeque. The churches were raided and the priest threatened with death.

When traveling between Cucyagua and Corquín Padre Fausto used to pass the [post of the] Seventh Infantry Battalion; they used to detain him there for four hours for searches and interrogations by army officials.

In hidden jails

In February 1981, when he was returning from Mexico after participating in the People’s Tribunal, Father Milla was abducted by death squads in La Flecha, Santa Barbara. He was held captive for six days in a torture chamber located on Third Avenue, right across from the National Drugstore in San Pedro Sula. They did not torture or interrogate him but they didn’t give him anything to eat and he had to endure the cries of other detainees while they were being tortured.

He was transferred to Tegucigalpa where he was interrogated by agent Bográn who had recently come from Argentina after having specialized in repressive actions; he also spoke with Coronel Juan Evangelista López Grivalda, one of the main persons responsible for the disappearances in the 1980s. [Padre Fausto’s] abduction was known internationally and there was a lot of pressure on the government until they released him.

Padre Fausto recalls that while he was in jail he found out that Facundo Guardado, a Salvadoran revolutionary leader who had been disappeared for a month in Honduras, was there. No one knew this until Padre Fausto, when he was freed, declared this publicly. Days later Facundo left jail in freedom when the Honduran Popular Liberation Movement “Cinchoneros” hijacked a plane and demanded the release of various political prisoners.

His people support him

When Padre Fausto Milla was freed, more than four thousand people from various municipalities in the south of Copán and Ocotpeque demonstrated in the streets of Corquín to condemn the government’s action.

In the parish [center] there were two US sisters and a German theologian who was attacked by the police for taking pictures of the demonstration. Some agents of DIN [the secret police] infiltrated the demonstration; they also took photos, taped speeches, and identified the leaders. Soon after, the persecution began and some went crazy after a month of tortures in Santa Rosa and Tegucigalpa.

“Right there in Corquín they began to beat [the people] in front of me, because when they began to arrest people I went and put myself almost in the doorway of FUNEP, together with a lot of other people,” said the priest. The situation turned very difficult. In November 1982, ten months after the demonstration, they set up a network to arrest or kill him, but he managed to escape to the North Coast [of Honduras] where he stayed in hiding, moving from house to house between Choloma and San Pedro Sula.

He left as an exile for Mexico and returned in 1986, which was still a time of great repression. Even though the military was keeping an eye on him, he began again to work with the indigenous, promoting natural medicine, the recovery of the [indigenous] culture, and the defense of human rights, above all in the Lenca and Chortí communities, through the Honduran Ecumenical Institute of Services for the Community (INEHSCO), which was founded in 1980.

In twenty years this work has been expanded to other areas of the country where father ha gone for consultations, to train people in natural medicine, and to promote healthy diets. He has also done this through the radio and print media.

Father Milla continues his work as a priest and participates in the struggles of the communities. Recently he has participated in the actions against the construction of the El Tigre dam and against open pit mining. At 80 years of age he is considered a rebel like Jesus; he maintains his youthful spirit and the firm hope of achieving a Honduras with dignity.


Translated by John Donaghy from Vida Laboral, enero de 2007, pp. 30-32. It can also be found in Spanish at <>
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but everyone for those of others.”
Philippians 2, 3-4

“The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else. It gives them a clarity of compassion that can find good in the most terrible criminals. It delivers them from the burden of judging others, condemning other men. It teaches them to bring the good out of others by compassion, mercy and pardon. A man becomes a saint not by the conviction that he is better than sinners but by the realization that he is one of them and that all together need the mercy of God!”
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, “Solitude is not separation”

In some ways I am glad I am not in the US now. From what I have read on the internet about the health care reform discussions it appears that there is a new viciousness, a lack of civility in the debate. People are calling others names, especially the epithet “Communist.” Truth seems to get lost as emotions are manipulated by talk of “death panels” and the other lies or half-truths.

I noted this also in some discussions on Facebook and on blogs in regard to the situation here in Honduras. There was an awful lot of name-calling and demonization. The charge of “communism” was thrown around.

But what really affected me was the mean-spiritedness of many of the commentators, mostly against the deposed president. It became so bad in at least one Facebook discussion that I wrote “Basta Ya” – enough already! Also, I decided to fast for at least one day from reading that person’s blog for it seemed to incite the worst reactions from people.

But a journalist friend had sent me a statement that came out two days before the June 26 coup from two Jesuit-sponsored ministries in northern Honduras. It warned of the polarization in the country and, in its first sentence, noted
“As soon as we can, we need to create an environment of calm and civility and it is necessary that reason takes its place in the present environment of passions and political and ideological confrontations.”
Further on they wrote:
“To advance toward a stage of minimum consensus there is the need for the action and presence of other forces which contribute to breaking the logic in which both sectors demonize each other and seek to crush each other.”
Polarization, demonization, intemperate speech are not Gospel values. They are also not political values that can help promote real steps forward. They just separate people into camps and make pursuit of the common good nearly impossible.

Though I have seen this from all parts of the political spectrum, I think it is most utilized by one more than others.

But what we need in Honduras - and in the US - is a real commitment to what Saint Paul and Thomas Merton point to in the quotations that begin this reflection – looking to the good in others and pursuing the common good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A gentle, fiery priest

Yesterday there were two major demonstrations against the coup.

In Tegucigalpa the demonstration turned ugly. The reports are confusing – What’s new? – but a fast food restaurant (Popeye’s) and a bus were burnt.

In San Pedro Sula, according to El Tiempo, the least conservative mainstream newspaper, it was quiet different. Their headline read “Asi se protesta: En orden y en paz” – “Thus they protest – in order and peace.”

What struck me, though, was that the San Pedro Sula included a Mass, concelebrated by Jesuit father Ismael Moreno and the Santa Rosa 81 year old diocesan priest, Father Fausto Milla. I wonder if their presence and the Mass they celebrated made the difference.

Padre Fausto usually celebrates the Sunday Mass in the church of San Martín de Porres, two blocks up the hill from where I live in Santa Rosa de Copán. When I’m in Santa Rosa I try to get to Mass there.

Padre Fausto usually gives rather long homilies, usually including a political message, though based in the scriptures and almost always accompanied by what I would call a deep piety. He is a very gentle and affectionate man, who has a history of opposition to injustice. He also has an organization that promotes natural medicine, organic agriculture and healthy diets. He at times preaches against Coca Cola and chips – which too many people eat here, ignoring the great fruits and vegetables.

Padre Fausto suffered in the 1980s for his prophetic stances; he was jailed and after released he went into exile in Mexico for a few years. An account of his life, in Spanish, appears at

But he still speaks forthrightly.

An article in El Faro quotes part of what Padre Fausto said in San Pedro Sula yesterday.
Brothers and sisters, let make peace and not violence. Repression can only be fought against and overcome with peace. Here, confronting us we don’t have the families of the oppressors, we don’t have anyone with a famous name. These police are our brothers; they are López, Ramos, Pérez.”
I have lived 81 years as a Honduran. I have lived and have seen many things, but never anything comparable to what we are all seeing today.”

Where there is inequality, freedom does not exist. This people is not fighting a fratricidal war between two sympathizers from two political parties. This people is struggling to achieve that equality, brought about by those oppressors who have now stolen that which we has the most right to have: sovereignty. They are the criminals and I don’t say this; Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution say this: The people is the sovereign; whoever steals this sovereignty is a traitor to the country, a criminal!

Some who worked on the writing of the Constitution have now told me that they regret (repent) having written article 3, because article 3 calls for insurrection, brothers and sisters, to return to the people the sovereignty which has been stolen from them here in Honduras.

Correction: It is not clear that the Tegucigalpa march turned violent. It seems that a few persons - after the demonstration and apart from it - were responsible for the limited violence. This is not to condone any violence but to avoid castigating the thousands of peaceful marchers with the deeds of a few.

Addition: Rebel Girl on her Iglesia Descalza blog translated the El Faro article. Thank you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tomorrow could be interesting

For a few days last week the de facto government of Roberto Micheletii was touting the imminent visit of foreign ministers of countries associated with the Organization of American States. It was supposed to happen tomorrow, Tuesday, August 11.

The de facto president, Robert Micheletti, was trumpeting this visit as a great step forward. Then he decided that he wouldn’t receive it since the head of the OAS would be a part of it and he called José Miguel Insulza “intransigent.” (Takes one to know one?) Now the delegation is on – since Insulza will only be an “observer.” When they will come is not sure.

Things might be complicated if they tried to come tomorrow.

There has been an increase of nonviolent opposition to the coup. The meteorologists at the airport were on strike for a bit. So were taxi cab drivers in some cities last Friday. The most interesting video I saw was of taxi drivers on a main street in Tegucigalpa going about five miles an hours and stopping the traffic.

In addition people are walking from about seven points in the country and converging on the capital, Tegucigalpa, and the second largest city, San Pedro Sula, the industrial capital of Honduras.

How many will arrive I don’t know and I won’t try to play the numbers game. But among the marchers is Father Andrés Tamayo, a priest from the department of Olancho who has been at the forefront of the efforts to stop the indiscriminate cutting of forests in that region. I do know that Father Fausto Milla, a retired priest in his eighties, has helped gather provisions for them. He proudly spoke of that at Mass this Sunday in the nearby chapel of San Martín here in Santa Rosa. He also spoke of the priest in Quimistán who helped provide food and shelter for the marchers as they passed along.

Feeding the hungry is a work of mercy – but it can also carry political ramifications. I am proud that the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán responded to a call from the first lady, Xiomara de Zelaya - to provide food for the people trapped at the border trying to greet the exiled president Zelaya - and sent a truck with provisions.

Pray for peace – but a peace based in justice.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sister Kay Koppes, OSF
May she rest in peace
October 4, 1946 - August 7, 2009

Franciscan Sisters Nancy Meyerhofer, Pat Farrell, Kay Koppes, Carol Besch

I met Sister Kay Koppes in El Salvador on one of my trips there. She and Sister Pat Farrell were working at the Calle Real camp for persons displaced by the war. She showed me around and we spoke. I met her a couple of other times when I visited El Salvador. In 1991 I got my first chance to visit with her in Suchitoto, the parish where she and four other US sisters were working with the Salvadoran pastor, assisting the people who lived in a zone ravaged by war. A year later, from January to July 1992, I ended up spending a sabbatical volunteering in the parish of Santa Lucía, Suchitoto.

Kay was a nurse practitioner and she worked in all areas of health, including work with midwives. During the Salvadoran war she worked to get medical supplies to the countryside even though the military tried to prevent them from getting in since the army feared that the medicine would go to the guerrillas.

Kay and the other sisters ministered in a very dangerous situation, going out to the countryside in the midst of bombings and military maneuvers. They stayed with the people when they could and ministered to them - with medicine, educational efforts, training of catechists, agricultural projects, and much more. They were truly a sign of God's love for the poor by their commitment to face the harsh realities of the Salvadoran war.

A few years after the war, Sister Kay left El Salvador. For a time she worked in a clinic for Latino migrants and refugees in Washington, DC. However, she began forgetting things and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She moved back to Dubuque, Iowa, and stayed at the facilities of her congregation, the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family.

She died yesterday - surrounded by her sisters.

Kay was short in stature, but I remember her spry smile, her strength, and her love for the poor. I will pray for her - but even more I think I'll pray to her. She lived the love of the God of the Poor.

Though their lives were very different, as I wrote this blog entry I thought of the journalist Penny Lernoux who died of cancer. Before she died Penny Lernoux wrote:
I feel that I’m walking down a new path. It’s not physical fear or fear of death, because the courageous poor in Latin America have taught me a theology of life that, through solidarity and our common struggle, transcends death. Rather, it is a sense of helplessness — that I who always wanted to be the champion of the poor am just as helpless — that I, too, must hold out my begging bowl; that I must learn — am learning — the ultimate powerlessness of Christ. It is a cleansing experience. So many things seem less important, or not at all, especially the ambitions.
Kay, strong in life, became helpless in the last years of her life. I pray that we all may learn the powerless of Christ as we remember Kay and many like her.


Today, in the rural village of El Zapote de Santa Rosa, I gave a presentation to catechists on the temptations of Christ. As I was preparing this, I was reminded that the temptations were about Jesus' identity and the way he would live out his mission. The temptations were to avoid the suffering of the cross and the identification with the powerless as the means to bring us salvation. Would that we - and the institutional Church - would remember how we need to live - not with guns, not by political conniving, not consorting with the wealthy and powerful - but identification with the suffering poor, taking up their cross with them.


A last note: you can read or download a draft of a chapter on the sisters' work in Suchitoto at SISTERS.doc. I hope one day to be able to publish it together with the story of the parish of Suchitoto in the 1970s and 1980s.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Article on Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos

The full article on the bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán and his opinions of the current situation can be found at <>.
August 6
Hiroshima and Transfiguration

Today is the 64th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hirohima, Japan, “a butchery of untold magnitude” in the words of Pope Paul VI, who died on this day in 1978.

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, it is also the feast of the Transfiguration, commemorating the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, where his divinity shone through his humanity.

The late bishop of Des Moines, Iowa, advocate of peace, the poor, and rural farmers, once wrote:
The very existence of the human race is in jeopardy. We must halt the arms race in the spirit of Tabor or proceed with the armaments race and face annihilation in the spirit of Hiroshima.
There are some efforts now being made by the US and Russia to halt the nuclear arms race, thank God, but so much more needs to be done.

War is the defilement of the human body, whereas Christian faith teaches the dignity of the body, though it may not always practice it. Even God takes on flesh. As some of the early fathers of the church put it, “God became human so that humans could become ‘divine’.”

Also of note: The country of El Salvador, the Savior, celebrates today as its feast-day. Just a few weeks before he was assassinated, Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero spoke in Belgium on the value of the human person, so abused by poverty, war, and repression in his country at that time and in many places even today:
Early Christians used to say Gloria Dei, vivens homo (‘The glory of God is the living person’). We could make this more concrete by saying Gloria Dei, vivens pauper (‘The glory of God is the living poor person’). From the perspective of the transcendence of the Gospel, I believe we can determine what the life of the poor truly is. And I also believe that by putting ourselves alongside the poor and trying to bring life to them we shall come to know the eternal truth of the Gospel.
Yesterday I went with my five visitors from Iowa to send them off in an early morning flight today. On the trip to San Pedro Sula we passed a group of those marching to San Pedro Sula against the coup. There were about 100 sitting in the shade a few miles north of La Entrada, Copán. My visitors wondered where they would sleep on the way.

Today on the way back they were marching along the road - about twice as many people – just south of the town 6 de Mayo, Santa Barbara. I think they plan to meet up with others by August 11 in San Pedro Sula, as others will meet up in Tegucigalpa.

In San Pedro Sula I again saw a young man eating out of a garbage bag and this time the stench from the garbage was overwhelming! It really shocked my visitors. What I hadn’t showed them here in Santa Rosa is the town dump where adults and children go through the bags as they are pushed off the garbage truck.

Some good news: I found the new site of the Honduran Jesuits’ Reflection, Research, and Communication Team – ERIC-SJ [Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Communication, Compañia de Jesús] <>.

My final thoughts go to this prayer of Pope John Paul II at Hiroshima:
To the creator of nature and [humanity],
of truth and beauty
I pray: hear my voice,
for I speak for the multitudes in every country
and in every period of history
who do not want war
and are ready to walk the road of peace.
Hear my voice
and grant insight and strength
so that we may always respond
to hatred with love,
to injustice with total dedication to justice
and to need with the sharing to self,
to war with peace.
O God, hear my voice
and grant unto the world your everlasting peace.
Amen - así sea - with our help!

Tomorrow, I'm going out to El Zapote de Santa Rosa for a workshop for catechists. The town has no electricity but it's closer to some of the rural communities. They'll only have to walk two hours to the workshop instead of four, if they were to attend the workshop sessions in Dulce Nombre.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bishop Santos
25 years of solidarity with the poor

Today the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ordination of Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, SDB, as bishop. There was an outdoor Mass at the site of a future diocesan formation center with most of the priests of the diocese and more than 600 people, many of them campesinos who drove to Santa Rosa in busses and pickups, some for more than three hours.

In his homily he noted that the day he was ordained here as bishop he received a delegation of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees. In the eighties there were 8,000 Guatemalan and 40,000 Salvadoran refugees, mostly in camps, in the diocese. Until they returned to their countries the diocese was one of the groups helping them.

So, from the very beginning, Bishop Santos took the side of the poor as had a previous bishop, Monseñor Carranza Chévez. Monseñor Santos’ motto as bishop was "to evangelize the poor"

We need bishops and priests who have the preferential option for the poor, he said. But he warned his priests to avoid being aligned with any of the political parties, for “You’ll become their slaves,” and they’ll try to buy you off with bribes.

Speaking of the coup d’état – he called it a coup – he noted that there will be even greater poverty now. The situation is now not one man or another but how to arrange the economy so that people have houses, food, shoes, etc.

He noted how last year during his ad limina visit to Romeo he got to speak with Pope Benedict XVI for ten minutes, including speaking with him about the environment, a concern the Pope shares.

In his homily, Monseñor Santos noted that because of his outspoken opposition to open-pit cyanide leeching gold mining, including the San Andrés mine in the diocese, he has lost friends which has hurt him. But, he said, one must speak up.

Noting the desperate situation of Honduras he noted that “We’re tired of all these thieves,” and “We have to leave these deadly waters.”

But he noted that the people is fed when it has hope.

During the offertory procession people brought forward baskets of fruits and vegetables and foods and crafts as a sign of offering the goods of the earth back to the Creator. Most were carried by campesinos who work the land – and try to eke out a subsistence for their families.

It was a blessing to be there – with five folks from Iowa who helped serve food to all those who came. It was also a joy to be able to hang behind the altar the banner that St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames sent in March with signatures of parishioners.

It was a blessing because the diocese is a sign, a witness, trying to be good news to the poor. In the next few months we in Caritas hope to develop a funding proposal for an agriculture and development in two or more of the poorest municipalities in Honduras which happen to be in the diocese.

It is also a blessing because the bishop and others have taken prophetic stands.

Today there appeared a short article on the news site of the Catholic News Service <> where Monseñor Santos is quoted as stating boldly that the wealthy elite were behind the coup. He also told the interviewer:
"Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That's what they understand. They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That's why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya's return)."

"There has never been a real democracy in Honduras. All we have is an electoral system where the people get to choose candidates imposed from above. The people don't really have representation, whether in the Congress or the Supreme Court, which are all chosen by the rich. We're the most corrupt country in Central America, and we can't talk about real democracy because the people don't participate in the decisions."
A larger story will be published on the interview with Monseñor Santos; I look forward to reading it.


The photos in this post and others on the bishop's celebration can be found at

Monday, August 03, 2009

The other face of Honduras

A group from Iowa came last Wednesday night to learn about Honduras, to meet its people, and to offer solidarity with the church here. Two – Lynette and Tyler Wheeler – were students I worked with at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. Now they are working in the Christ Our Hope cluster of six Catholic parishes in northeast Iowa.

They came at an interesting time. The car was stopped by the military twice as we came late at night from San Pedro Sula to Santa Rosa. On Friday we passed by the central square here and saw the crowd outside the police station waiting the release of all those detained when the blockade was broken up Friday morning. We saw a woman who had been detained but had fainted inside the police station being taken in a pick up to the hospital.

The first two days we spent time visiting a kindergarten in Colonia Divina Providencia, a poor neighborhood ins Santa Rosa, as well as two visits to Hogar San José, a home for malnourished children under six run by the Missionaries of Charity. They saw how teachers and workers with kids are stretched, with so little help for so many children. They saw some of the effects of malnutrition and poverty.

Saturday and Sunday we spent in the parish of La Trinidad, Copán, with Padre Sandro Aguilar, the pastor. Tyler and Lynette are exploring with their parishes in Iowa the possibilities of establishing a relationship with a parish here.

Padre Sandro gave us a good overview of the parish. We crammed into the car he borrowed (since his pickup is being repaired after an accident) and visited some of the distant villages that make up his parish – with 4 municipalities and 56 or so rural villages – some of them 35 kilometers or more from the town of Trinidad.

The first place we visited – after a long drive on dirt and gravel roads was Las Flores where we met with members of the retreat preparation team from that sector of the parish. It was a very warm meeting with sharing from both sides. During the course of the meeting I asked them to share how many years of formal education they had. A few had only two but the most any had was 6 years! But they were giving their time and their talents to building up the work of the church here.

We visited other communities where the people shared their faith and told us of their efforts. It was a great opportunity to witness to the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church, as people from Iowa and Honduras shared.

Saturday afternoon we returned to Trinidad. I laid down for a rest while the others went to explore the town. Two teenage girls showed them around and they even got to a soccer field where some of them played a bit with a few kids.

In the evening we met with pastoral leaders in town. At the end of the meeting there was a surprise birthday celebration for Tyler who turned 26 that day, complete with two cakes and lots of singing.

Sunday there was Mass in the town of Protección and a visit to a distant village where we were warmly received. The day ended with a two hour evening Mass in Trinidad.

I think it was Tyler who mentioned how it seemed so different from Santa Rosa – distant from the controversies, almost distant from the poverty, and full of experiences of the generous hospitality of the people. Lynette was taken aback when one of the teenage girls took off a medal she was wearing and tied it around Lynette’s neck. Tyler had his own experience after a Mass on Sunday when a little old lady came up and pushed a lempira into his hands after she had heard of what they were doing here and their commitment to the church in the US.

It is all too easy to see the poverty and lament it, at times to feel sorry for the people. But it is very important to see what they can do – for example, 328 base communities in the parish of Trinidad – and to hear of their commitment – walking hours to get to Mass or even walking three or fours hours to get to a parish meeting in Trinidad.

There are many very capable people , very committed Christians, many who want the best for their villages and their country. But the poverty, the system, the corruption, the polarized politics make it very hard for them. Yet they persist. The persistence of the poor is a virtue that needs to be recognized and respected for what it is - a sign of hope that must not be frustrated.