Monday, November 30, 2009


Last night before going to sleep I was thinking about the elections. The National Party candidate, Pepe Lobo, won. He is the more conservative candidate of the more conservative of the two major parties. (By the way, lobo is the Spanish word for “wolf.”)

Will this make a difference, I wondered. Leaving aside questions of whether most nations will recognize the election, I am not sure it will make a major difference for what I do – at least in the short term.

I recalled how the church in our diocese has been critical of the government since I’ve been here. Though the church saw some of Zelaya’s initiatives as worthy - e.g., raising the minimum wage, that didn’t stop the church from being critical of the corruption found in both parties, the lack of responsiveness of both parties to the needs of the poor, the close ties of many members of congress with special interests and the economic elite, and the bureaucracy that rewards people for belonging to a party rather than for their qualifications and service to the people.

I recalled how Caritas program for citizenship participation works on the local level, empowering the local civil society to demand transparency and foster participation. Responding to the crisis, Caritas will begin a series of “schools for popular formation” in the seven deaneries of the diocese but this is, in some ways, more an extension of the work that has been done in three municipalities.

But will the election really affect the lives of the poor in our area – the poorest diocese of the country? I have my doubts. But it would have probably been the same if Elvin Santos had won.

The problem is the structural injustice which seems endemic here, where the desires of the rich are more important than the needs of the poor. This is in direct contradiction to what Pope John Paul II said several years ago in Canada, “The needs of the poor have priority over the desires of the rich.”

As I reflect on this I recall part of Padre Fausto’s homily yesterday. He asked, rhetorically, if there would be so many candidates for Congress here in Honduras if they were paid the minimum salary.

He also mentioned, referring to the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 66), the need “to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic inequalities which now exist.”

That concern was echoed, 44 years later, in Pope Benedict XVI’s address on November 16 to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
In the current situation there is a continuing disparity in the level of development within and among nations that leads to instability in many parts of the world, accentuating the contrast between poverty and wealth. This no longer applies only to models of development, but also to an increasingly widespread perception concerning food insecurity, namely the tendency to view hunger as structural, an integral part of the socio-political situation of the weakest countries, a matter of resigned regret, if not downright indifference. It is not so, and it must never be so! To fight and conquer hunger it is essential to start redefining the concepts and principles that have hitherto governed international relations, in such a way as to answer the question: what can direct the attention and the consequent conduct of States towards the needs of the poorest? The response must be sought not in the technical aspects of cooperation, but in the principles that lie behind it: only in the name of common membership of the worldwide human family can every people and therefore every country be asked to practise solidarity, that is, to shoulder the burden of concrete responsibilities in meeting the needs of others, so as to favour the genuine sharing of goods, founded on love.
(Italics mine)
The continuing and growing gap between rich and poor is not some Marxist ideology about class struggle. It is a reality here in Honduras - as in many places in the world, including the US. It has been a continuing ethical concern that is not being addressed. But I don't think it will be addressed until the haves support the struggles of the have-nots to change structures of injustice.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mass in the midst

Today, as usual when I’m in Santa Rosa, I went to Mass up the hill in the little church of San Martín de Porres.

On the way to Mass, about 9:55 am, I passed a polling place at a school up the street. There were about four army troops outside and one at the entrance. There were a few people entering. (When I came back from Mass, about 11:15 am, there was only one military person at the entrance.)

Most Sundays Padre Fausto Milla presides at Mass, as he did today.

Padre Fausto began his commentary after the first reading, Jeremiah 33: 14-16, and then also spoke after the Gospel.

Padre Fausto was very impassioned and spoke of the current situation as a war between the Fatherland and Money (Patria y Dinero). He seems to think that what happens in Honduras will presage what may happen in other countries of Honduras – coups to preserve economic elites.

He mentioned a series of events that provide a snapshot of the situation. I have read other reports that the situation is quite tense in other parts of the country and that even a non-profit, RED Comal, founded by Quakers, which works with campesinos was raided by the military yesterday and computers and other materials were taken.

Padre Fausto spoke of a village where authorities are going around, from house to house and threatening the people with ten years of prison if they don’t vote.

He mentioned a case of the town of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, where the military did a 4:00 am raid and forced the people out onto the streets.

But one story is almost comical. Padre Esteban in Lepaera, Lempira, has been very outspoken against the coup. Yesterday the military surrounded the parish center, where he also lives and thus would prevent him from coming out. However, their intelligence was really poor. He was out in one of the rural villages and so their encirclement of the parish house was in vain.

A few days ago Padre Esteban was denounced to the authorities and got a visit from the intelligence/investigative arm of the police.

But here in Santa Rosa it’s very peaceful. I pray it stays that way.

A Saint for Today

Twenty nine years ago today, November 29, 1980, Dorothy Day died at Mary House, the Catholic Worker house in the lower east side of Manhattan. She and Peter Maurin had started the Catholic Worker in 1933 and it has spread throughout the world: communities living with the poor, providing their basic needs, and advocating for justice and nonviolence.

Robert Ellsberg who has collected her writings and edited her diaries includes her in his classic book All Saints. He notes how she combines seeming opposites:
The enigma of Dorothy Day was her ability to reconcile her radical social positions (she called herself an anarchist as well as a pacifist) with a traditional and even conservative piety.
I sense this too among many of the campesinos I meet here in western Honduras.

For Dorothy, there was no conflict between charity and justice. Her radical commitment to love was expressed in the works of mercy as well as in political advocacy. As Ellsberg wrote:
She represented a new type of political holiness — a way of serving Christ not only through prayer and sacrifice but through solidarity with the poor and the struggle along the path of justice and peace.
She is truly a saint for today - rooted in God's love and rooted in the reality of poverty and injustice.

She is a saint for Honduras today, suffering under intense poverty and a coup, where "elections" are being held.

She is also a saint who tried in her writing - she was, at heart, a journalist - to speak the truth to power and to show love.

A few days ago I got an e-mail from Jim Forest with this quote from Dorothy Day:
Writing is an act of community. It is a letter, it is comforting, consoling, helping, advising on our part as well as asking it on yours. It is part of our human association with each other. It is an expression of our love and concern for each other.
Dorothy Day, "On Pilgrimage" column, The Catholic Worker, October 1950
Since June I have been doing a lot of blogging and in the process connecting with many people whom I have never met in person. Their notes and comments, as well as the notes of friends, have been for me a sign of that love and concern for each other we all need. Thanks.

This all reminds me of the first verse of the second reading from today's liturgy, 1 Thessalonians 3, 12. The Spanish reads:
Que el Señor los llene y los haga rebolsar de un amor mutuo y hacia todos los demás, como el que yo tengo a ustedes...
I found no English translation that captures the force of this Spanish translation. So here's mine:
May the Lord fill you and even make you overflow with mutual love and love toward others, as the love I have for you.
Here in Santa Rosa we get water only a few times a week and so most houses have tanks on their roofs to store water. But some tanks don't have shut off valves and so when the tanks are full they run over, they overflow - "rebolsan." And so may love run over the tanks, the cups, of all our hearts.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Future of Honduras

Tomorrow, Honduras - tense and militarized - will hold elections for the president, mayors, and members of the national Congress.

What will tomorrow hold?

According to a Brazilian official, US president Obama in a letter to President Lula of Brazil said that the situation would “start from zero” after the election. I doubt that.

Honduras is probably already below zero. The economy is, I believe, experiencing negative growth as a result of the coup.

Hunger is increasing and is being used in the elections. For example, in the department of Intibucá last Sunday a rally of the one of the traditional party brought out lots of people, clogging the road – because the party was offering a meal!

But today I saw another side of the future of Honduras.

In 1994, Santa Rosa bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, a Belgian, Tony Limere, and others started Fondación Polígono which has hired and trained many young people in the production of loofah bath scrubs from paste, a local plant. The products are sold in Europe but they don’t, as yet, have a US outlet. (Hint!) The foundation also has been a site for the weekend classes of Maestro en Casa. Students listen to radio classes at home during the week and come to the campus of the foundation for reviews and tests on Saturday or Sunday.

Today 16 young men and women graduated from the high school program. (I use the term high school and junior high even though the system is not the same as the US system.) I went to the program, as a representative of Caritas. It was moving to see these young people and their proud parents come up and get their diploma. They come from poor families and would never have been able to get a high school degree if it weren’t for this program. Some of them come from villages that have no high school. Others have to work during the day and so cannot go to school.

Monseñor Santos began the celebration with Mass. Before the diplomas were given out, certificates and medals were given to the students in junior high and high school with the best grades. After one young man who is finishing junior high got his medal, it was announced that he has done this with a family and a full-time job from Monday to Saturday noon.

There’s one other aspect of this effort which is quite impressive. The program has received assistance from Irish Aid. But many of the costs of the education program are paid for from the profits of the loofah plant. As Monseñor noted, here’s a case of the poor helping the poor.

That’s what give me hope.

Speaking of hope, this morning I read an essay of Henri Nouwen, “Waiting for God,” in the collection of Advent, Watch for the Light, originally published by the Bruderhof but now an Orbis book.

Several sentences struck me:
“We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun in us.”

“The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be fully present to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.”
Nouwen is very clearly speaking about waiting in a religious sense. But I wonder if we cannot have hope – and wait in hope – if there are no signs of what we hope for present. I wonder if the present feeling here in Honduras may not be related to the fact that the presidential elections don’t offer the people much to really hope for. The two major parties leave a lot to be desired.

But the eight young women and eight young men who graduated this morning offer hope.


A few odds and ends:

El Tiempo is one of Honduras’ major newspapers. Its owner is one of the richest men in the country, Jaime Rosenthal. But, unlike the other papers which are totally in favor of the coup and the Micheletti regime, El Tiempo has been a little fairer in its reporting. Jaime Rosenthal even came out against the coup about a month ago. But still I was a little surprised at these paragraphs of an editorial from Friday, November 20:
12,000 soldiers, 14,000 policemen and 5,000 reservists are directly involved in the control of the polling centers and the electorate. The armed forces have asked mayors to compile lists of "enemies" of the electoral process in order to "neutralize" them. The Attorney General has ordered all 530 public prosecutors around the country to stand ready to prosecute "electoral delinquents."
How can one speak of free and fair elections under these conditions? What reasonable citizen would feel comfortable voting, along with his or her family, in a climate dominated by threats, fear and the lack of trust?
Soldiers and police have been very evident in the streets of Santa Rosa de Copán today. A group of soldiers seems to be guarding a public building just off the central plaza, presumably where the ballots are being held. But I saw army foot patrols this morning and several patrols of police – on foot, on motorcycle, and in a pick up – several times today.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Machine gun

Here's a photo I took today of the machine gun on the pick up at the turn off to Gracias, Lempira, near Santa Rosa de Copán. I mentioned it in my Sunday, November 22 blog entry.

Om my way to Gracias to celebrate Thanksgiving with Sisters Nancy and Brenda, two Franciscan sisters from Iowa, I did not see a lot of troops. But I have heard that they are guarding closely the ballots that are in the municipalities.

It is always to good to meet with the sisters who are a real blessing for the parish of San Marcos in Gracias. Their presence is also a great source of support for me.

A Guatemalan Franciscan priest who is serving a parish in Olancho joined us for a simple meal and great conversation.

It was good to be able to celebrate Thansgiving in Gracias - which is the Spanish word for "Thanks."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seeing the poor

It's hard knowing what one should be when seeing the poor and when they ask for help.

The other night an older man knocked at the outer door to my house and asked for something. I explained to him that I don't give out money and then thought if I had any food to share with him. At that point I couldn't think of anything I could share with him. I didn't have any fruit and I forget that I had crackers. And so he left.

I felt bad, and still do, especially reading James 2: 15-16

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day and one of you says, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
I think I will try to always have something in the cupboard so that I can share.

And then I came across a photo that struck me - it's the de facto president at Mass on Monday in Tegucigalpa. I think it was a Mass in the basilica of the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras, where four of the presidential candidates were present. (The Wall Street Journal's description states: "IN THE AISLE: Honduras' interim president Roberto Micheletti looked at a homeless woman sitting in an aisle during Mass in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Monday....")

According to a news report, at the end of the Mass Micheletti told the four candidates:
 "I ask you, four extraordinary men, that if God wills to place you in the post [of president] that you will never try to place yourselves above the law of God and the law of humans, that we dedicate ourselves to this Honduras which needs so much."

But then there's this passage from James 2: 2-4:

For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say. "Sit here, please, while you way to the poor one, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?"
We are all judged and found wanting by the Word of God.

Revised slightly November 25, 2009, 10:09 am

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A week of waiting

Next Sunday elections will be held here in Honduras.

Today I passed a window with a sign that read "They all lie. Nobody fulfills [their promises]. Vote for nobody."

The June 28 coup that removed the elected president, José Manuel Zelaya, from his home and the country and placed transport mogul and long-term congressman (28 years?), Roberto Micheletti, as de facto president.

Various efforts to mediate the crisis have ended up as failures and so the crisis of constitutional order has not been resolved. No nation of the world recognized the de facto regime but that has not stopped the regime from going forward with the elections.

The campaigning is largely over and we await elections which most of the world probably won't recognize as legitimate. (Sadly the U.S. seems intent on recognizing them.)

What will it mean here? I really don't know.

I know that some people will not go out to vote because they are opposed to the coup and are boycotting it and urging others to boycott. (They face prospects of legal prosecution.) Others will not vote because they are just fed up with the politicians. The 2006 election had a 56% turnout, the lowest since the 1983 constitution went into effect. People I know see the two party system as corrupt and non-responsive to the people. The parties award their cronies and punish their opponents. (Getting a teacher's job sometimes depends on your connection with a party and politicians.) And so they might say, as I heard in the US, "Why vote? it only encourages them."

There may be some who go and vote because they really believe the elections may be a way to provide a partial resolution to the crisis. Others may vote out of fear since not voting is a crime.

The Vatican Radio interviewed Father Germán Cálix, the executive director of the national Caritas office. You can read an article based on the interview at Zenit. He's a lot more sanguine than I am about the possible effects of the elections. I know a few priests here who would dispute his take on the situation. They might agree with his statement that Honduras needs to "mend the social fabric that was torn by the conflict, and channel energies," but they would add that there is a need to "re-found Honduras." There is a need to work for reconciliation - but this must go hand in hand with a struggle for justice.

As I have said often, elections will not solve the crisis since its roots are much deeper, in a structure of injustice that enables economic and political elites to remain in power and increase their influence and wealth.

Where will this go? I do not know. I'll have to wait.

But I do know that there is another way to wait, a way more appropriate to the Christian season of Advent which is approaching - preparing for the Lord, by making straight his paths, by being and working with the poor and marginalized so that they may begin to construct structures of justice in their villages and neighborhoods and towns.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who rules in Honduras?

Since about two weeks ago the country has become more militarized, with more police and military throughout the country.

Last Wednesday friends came to visit from Gracias and told me that there were at least two armed military on every bridge between Gracias and Santa Rosa. A friend who traveled from the San Pedro Sula airport to Santa Rosa de Copán at 1 am on Friday mentioned that they passed 20 checkpoints. (I think the number may be an exaggeration.) But I have seen more police and a good number of soldiers at the checkpoint outside of town by the road to Gracias. There are often transit police there but the presence of the military is new. Yet Sunday, returning from Dulce Nombre, as the bus passed the checkpoint I saw something I haven’t seen since El Salvador in the early 1990s – a machine gun on the top of a pick up truck.

Some are afraid and, I believe, sowing fear by the presence of so many troops. There are others who are fearful for the situation. One parish in the diocese canceled its evening Mass on election day because of concerns that there might be violence - between partisans of the two major parties!

But there was a very different message this Sunday in the village of Candelaria in the parish of Dulce Nombre. Over 1000 gathered on the lawn outside the church for the parish Mass for the feast of Christ the King. Their faith tells them something different. As they sang as a response to the prayers of petition, “May Jesus reign, may His heart rule – in our county, on our soil.”

To make it clear who should rule in Honduras, Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor of Dulce Nombre and the director of the diocesan Caritas office, gave an impassioned twenty minute homily, broadcast on the diocesan radio station. Here are some excerpts:
This is a time of both joy and sorrow. It is a joy to work together with all of you seeking the people’s liberation, a liberation which Jesus gives us, liberation from sin.

But this joy has been turned into sadness with the situation we have in our country which is for me a pity, a shame. I feel very ashamed to have politicians of the type we have here in Honduras…

Cowardice cannot blind [us to] the essence of the structure of sin which is concealed within, which does not liberate but oppresses, which leads to more illiteracy, hospitals without medicine, teachers who don’t give classes, school without teachers. This is very sad….

Celebrating this Eucharist signifies for me to say to the Lord that you are the king and only you have the words of eternal life.
He then noted how it is easy for priests and pastoral workers to become comfortable and accommodate themselves to injustice and fail to denounce it. (Interestingly this was also a concern that surfaced at the diocesan assembly two weeks ago.)

Recalling that Christ is our peace, Padre Efraín, he continued:
Christ denounced sin offering his life, shedding his blood.
There have been many deaths, but these people have not had weapons…
We must ask the Lord that we may resist with peace.

Many people have struggled, been provoked to take up arms, but these Hondurans have not done it . They are us….We will not take up arms – we must not do this. If any of you are thinking of this, you must not do it for any reason at all.

We must make the battle as Mohandas Gandhi did, as Jesus Christ did – without weapons….

We must ask the Lord to illumine each one of us, all the people who make decisions in our country….
He then noted that, within the area of the parish, some people have being buying cedulas (i.d. cards) for 200 Lempiras (about $11). Representatives of one of the traditional parties is buying the cedulas and holding them for six days and because of this the person won't be able to vote.

But then he returned to the struggle, the conflict.
Don’t let yourselves be deceived…. Our enemy ought to be not another person, but the devil…. Our enemies ought not to be any person but the forces of evil which poison some hearts and through them there is the shedding of blood, there’s exploitation….

We must ask the Lord that the combat not be against persons but against the forces of evil. Now. If it’s against the forces of evil, Jesus has already conquered sin… Jesus has crushed the enemy And if the enemy is already crushed, the people has to crush the structure of injustice – because all Hondurans deserve a better destiny….

Ask the Lord to give the light, the light of truth – to the People, for he is the way the truth and the life. If Jesus is the life, no one has permission to kill – no one!
Then he made an appeal to the armed forces and military, reminiscent of Salvadoran archbishop Romero’s appeal the day before he was killed and echoed in the July 2 statement of the Santa Rosa Diocesan Pastoral Council: “No one ought to obey an order to kill.”

He repeated this appeal to any civilians who might be armed: “No one ought to obey an order to kill.”

And he urged a different type of struggle: “We must use the arms of faith – take up the weapons of faith – prayer, fasting, and charity. We must ask God to transform us – each of us – that he transform me…”

Concluding, he asked all present and all those listening on the radio to take time to pray, asking the Lord to transform us – in the depths of our hearts, asking the Lord for our conversion, for the conversion of those who have decisions in this country, for our family’s conversion and the conversion of the departmental and municipal authorities. “Pray that Christ guide our thoughts.”

He asked all of us to bow our heads in prayer, asking for conversion. He concluded by leading the congregation in a popular hymn which reflects the popular religiosity of the people, but took on a deeper meaning: Señor, yo quiero ser un verdadero adorador – Lord, I want to be a true adorer.

The Mass continued and concluded with a ceremony for the delegates of the Word who lead Sunday celebrations in the 45 villages in the parish. Close to 100 men and women were given small crosses to wear, as signs of their commitment to preach the Word in their villages.

It was a moving day. I was close to tears during the homily. One thought went through my mind toward the end of the homily. Before Mass I had been going around meeting with many of the pastoral workers in the parish, talking with some of the kids I had met while visiting their villages, and seeing so many people – some of whom had walked several hours to get to the site of the Mass.

What I found myself thinking – as a type of mantra – was: “These people deserve more.” Only when I listened to the tape I had made of the homily did I realize that Padre Efraín had said the same.

Yes, these people deserve more.

Who rules Honduras? And for whom is Honduras ruled?

My prayer is that the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, may begin to rule here – a Kingdom which is, in the words of the liturgy today, a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

Of course, I don’t expect the Kingdom to come in its fullness here on earth. We await another Kingdom. But Catholic teaching calls us to look for and work so that the signs, the glimpses, of this Kingdom may be seen and experienced here on earth – especially by the poor.

"Your Kingdom come."
Luke 11:2

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."
Luke 6: 20

corrected November 23 2009, 8:45 pm

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

At the side of the road

Monday it was my turn to lead the reflection on the Gospel for the meeting of program staff at Caritas. We usually read the next Sunday’s Gospel, but I goofed up and we read the Gospel for Monday, Luke 18: 35-43. A fortuitous error.

In this passage a blind man in Jericho, seated at the side of the road, calls out for Jesus but people try to shut him up. But he persists. Jesus then comes and asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man is healed and follows Jesus.

During our reflection, Manuel, who works on agricultural projects, noted that Jesus almost always deals with the people at the side of the road. He also noted how we try not to listen to them; in fact, we often try to shut them up!

Those at the margins of society have a special place in the heart of God – because they are marginalized. They call out and many try to shut them up, for disturbing the peace (our “peace”), for being a nuisance to society. But Jesus listens, draws them near– and heals them.

What a marvelous God – who listens to those we want to shut up, to those who disturb us, to those who make us uncomfortable. And who listens to us.

Manuel’s wisdom really reminded me of what we’re called to be, disciples and servants.

This week is a little less busy than the past few weeks and so I was able to get to Hogar San José (the home for malnourished kids under 5) on Sunday and to the comedor de niños (the diocesan lunch program for kids) on Tuesday.

At the comedor an older kid – about 11 – whom I don’t remember seeing before, came up to me and hugged me. I don’t know why – but it touched me. And he was barefoot!

At the side of the ride Jesus finds those in need. And so the blind man “immediately received his sight and followed [Jesus], giving glory to God. When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No comment

From an article in the Wall Street Journal on Honduras Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez:
Cardinal Rodríguez sees the rule of law as an important link to development. "The key is to assure justice," he says, "because if you don't have legal security, you are not going to invest. Investment is very important. With investments there are more jobs for our people."

Speaking of investors, the cardinal says, "of course they are not all saints," and human rights must be protected. "But what should we do without those jobs?" he asks. Then he adds, "Maquilas [assembly plants] are especially important for women, because their jobs have been a source of dignity. When they earn their own money they are no longer slaves to the macho man in their lives, who often is not even their husband."
From a press release for a new book from Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR):
“Gabriela Saavedra worked seven days a week in a Korean-owned sweatshop in Honduras. Her days typically began at 7 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. … Employees were given an ultimatum: either they worked mandatory overtime or they lost their jobs. Some days Gabriela had gone without sleep because she had been forced to work until 5 a.m. She had little time to eat or go to the bathroom.”

Monday, November 16, 2009

A civilization of poverty

Twenty years ago today six Jesuit priests at the Central American University in San Salvador and two women, a worker in the university and her daughter, were brutally killed by troops of the Salvadoran army, an army financed by the United States.

The crime of the Jesuits was to take a stand for the poor and to demand justice. The crime of the women was to be poor and to be witnesses to injustice.

Padre Ignacio Ellacuría, the rector of the university, had written on “the civilization of poverty.” The concept – paradoxical as it may be – has captured my imagination and I really would like to pursue it more thoroughly. It’s related to concepts of austerity and moderation but it implies much more. Ellacuría wrote:
“Rather than capital accumulation, the civilization of poverty proposes as dynamizing principle the dignifying of work, of work that will have as its principal object not the production of capital but the perfecting of the human being. Work, viewed at once as the personal and collective means to assure the satisfaction of basic needs and as a form of self-realization, would supersede different forms of self- and hetero-exploitation and would likewise supersede inequalities that are both an affront and the cause of domination and antagonism.”
Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., “Utopia and Prophecy in Latin America,”
in Towards a Society that Serves Its People, p. 75
Jesuit Dean Brackley has noted that this approach subordinates the production of capital to production to satisfy the basic needs of everyone. What a different world that would be.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Good news and bad

The Santa Rosa de Copán diocesan assembly ended today, a day earlier than planned. It was a fruitful meeting with about 100 priests and lay leaders meeting with the bishop to plan for the coming years – and to prepare the way for the diocese’s third pastoral plan.

The third pastoral plan will be prepared by a commission based on the deliberations and recommendations of several diocesan assemblies as well as meetings of the priests’ council. The diocese hopes to have it written and approved some time next year. It’s a twelve year plan to be reviewed every three years.

In the bishop’s official naming of the commission he noted the six theological pastoral principles for the diocese:
  1. Option for the poor
  2. Participation, Communion, Liberation
  3. Three fold ministry [prophetic, liturgical, social]
  4. Proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom
  5. Creation and Life
  6. Common Good, Faith and Life
Not a bad choice of basic principles, I’d say. If course they fit well with the diocesan general objective:
to work for a diocese organized in church base communities which are in solidarity, prophetic, missionary and transformative, contributing to the integral formation and liberation of the human person, preferencially those most in need, to make presence the Kingdom of God.
During the assembly Caritas did a little survey to pull together some data on the 41 parishes of the diocese. The results will be tabulated later but I did a quick look and found out, to my surprise, that there are more than 5630 church base communities formed or in process of being formed in the diocese. That’s impressive and provides a very useful means for the diocese to continue its process of evangelization.

The meeting, though, closed early because of two deaths. The mother of the priests died of cancer and some were going to her funeral.

But what had really shocked the assembly was the violent death of a Capuchin Franciscan priest who served in the parish in Nueva Ocotopeque and in the Capuchin community there. (Nueva Ocotopeque is in the diocese of Santa Rosa.) Padre Miguel Angel Hernández Salazar. ofm cap, a Guatemalan, had been missing since Saturday when he went to an area in nearby Guatemala, reportedly to buy some materials for religious education. His body was found on Tuesday. It does not seem that this was politically motivated since the area in Guatemala where he was passing through is known for its crime and, according to one report, he was not very politically engaged. However, he was somewhat involved in the local church's ministry to migrants.

But at the assembly we also heard of another case of threats against a priest in the diocese, in addition to the one I mentioned yesterday. Padre Julián Diez, CP, a Spanish Passionist priest, is pastor of the parish of San Juan Bautista in Quimistán, Santa Barbara. He has been supportive of the diocesan position against the coup and received threats for his stance.

Where this will lead I do not know. But as the November 29 elections come closer and as there seems to be no hope of a solution of the constitutional crisis, the next two weeks are bound to be tense.

Veering from my normal course:

And now for a bit of my commentary on my own country.

I hear a lot of people here stating that the US was behind the coup. I’ve tended to be somewhat skeptical about such claims.

However, in my estimation, the US has not played a very good, just, or even-handed role in regard to coup. It has been half-hearted in its calls for a reversal of the coup. It has been quick to critique Zelaya and slower than a turtle in critiquing Micheletti. It has been almost silent in the face of human rights violations and repressive measures of the coup. The statements of the US representative to the Organization of American States have been disgraceful. Its latest maneuvers in the face of the failed San José/Tegucigalpa accords, especially the remarks of Shannon intimating that the US will recognize the elections, have set back the possibility for a just solution. I fear that the US administration – especially the State Department – has not supported the cause of justice, human rights, and democracy.

I would have hoped for better.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

With the diocese

This week the bishop, the priests, and lay leaders of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, more than 100 of them, are meeting to evaluate the past year and to plan for next year – as well as to work on the third Pastoral Plan of the diocese. The plan has been in the works for a few years, but as the bishop said at Mass the other night it will have to be looked at again, since the situation in Honduras is different since June 28, the day of the coup.

The meeting is taking place in a difficult time for Honduras with elections scheduled for November 29 and no solution in sight to resolve the mess created by the coup.

Tonight I took a walk and had a wonderful conversation with a leader from a town in the hills of the department of Lempira. He insisted on buying me a Coke! We talked about his life, his family, his eight year old son who is, in his eyes, a little genius. (I’m only slightly exaggerating.) We talked about all sorts of things. His wife is a primary school teacher, but because many of the openings for teachers are given out based on one’s political politics, she leaves on Monday and returns on Friday. We also talked about how the economy has worsened here – mostly due to the world-wide economic crisis but also partly due to the effects of the coup.

Many are saying elections are the solution. I have even heard that there are some church programs and priests urging people to vote. But Monseñor Santos, our bishop, told the priests not to tell the people either to vote or not to vote. He sees the need for long-term resistance to the economic and political injustice which pervade Honduras.

But that could be costly.

This became a little more real when Sister Nancy pointed out a priest to me who had been getting death threats, presumably because he had been speaking out on the coup. About a week ago the deanery issued a public statement in his support. A translation follows:

Public Statement

The priests and the pastoral workers in the Deanery of the North of [the department of] Lempira, in the face of the political instability brought on by the coup d’état of June 28 declare in the following terms:
  1. We are in solidarity of the pastoral work of Father Salomé Peñate on behalf of Justice, Truth, and Peace.
  2. We reject the campaign of slander and calumny which some individuals of the traditional [political] parties, anonymously, are making against Father Salomé Peñate and other priests of the diocese.
  3. We forcefully condemn the death threats against Father Peñate and the psychological pressure against some pastoral workers.
  4. We hold responsible the traditional [political] Parties for whatever political and moral harm may come to any of the priests and pastoral workers of the deanery and of the diocese (of Santa Rosa de Copán).
  5. We vehemently request the entities (both civil and military) in charge of the security of the civilian population to take note of this [communication].
  6. We exhort all Catholic Christians to remain faith and firm in their commitment to Christ and his Kingdom – a Kingdom of Justice and Truth of Peace and Love. We recall what Saint Peter said in the Acts of the Apostles 5:29:
“We must obey God before humans.”

Released in Lepaera, Lempira, November 4, 2009.

“Yes to Justice and truth; no to lies and corruption.”

Sunday, November 08, 2009

So many witnesses

I have this attraction to saints and holy people. Some would call it devotion, but it’s more than that. I have even put together a calendar of saints and witnesses with quotes from many of them.

November is a month particularly full of saints and witnesses. Today is the birthday of Dorothy Day (1897-1980) as well as the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus, the medieval Franciscan theologian and philosopher from whose name we get the word “dunce” who died on November 8, 1308.

Dorothy Day’s witness of simple care for the poor and advocacy for justice has been an inspiration for many years. I was in her presence a few times. Once in the early 1970s, it was after a Friday night "Clarification of Thought" at the New York City Catholic Worker. I don’t remember much except that she came across as a simple caring grandmother.

Maybe that is the secret of her appeal. As she once wrote:
People say, "What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes.
This morning I read a little on John Duns Scotus in Daniel Ellsberg’s Todos Santos that also spoke of love - in a slightly different way. One quote struck me (translated by me into English): “I am of the opinion that God wished to redeem us in this way, above all by attracting us [enticing us] to his love.”

Maybe this is why I love to go out to the countryside.

Yesterday I went out to Dulce Nombre. I attended part of a meeting of pastoral workers from one of the zones, but I also spent a fair amount of time with about eleven young people who are helping the parish prepare part of the parish grounds as a soccer field. The associate at Dulce Nombre, Padre Julio César Galdámez, has been working with the youth and was there with them – raking the land and spreading earth. But it was amazing to see these young people, mostly guys from the town of Dolores, working hard and then, after lunch, playing hard.

It’s a blessing to be able to be with them.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Speaking out

Today is the birthday of Albert Camus (1913-1960), French philosopher, novelist, journalist, and activist who was born in Algeria. His writings have had a major impact on my life. In the mid-1960s I came across this quote from a speech of his, “The Unbeliever and the Christian,” at a Dominican monastery in 1948:
“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face history has taken on today.”

His novel The Plague is one of my favorite pieces of fiction. Interestingly, it was written during World War II while Camus was staying at Le Chambon-sur-Lingon, a French village notable for its efforts to save Jews, led by the pacifist Protestant pastor, André Trocmé, and his wife Magda.

This novel, set in Algeria, explores how people respond to a plague. Written during the Second World War it is hard to see that this is not a metaphor for Nazism and anti-Semitism. I heartily recommend the novel and the set of essays, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, to challenge people and institutions to respond directly to the evils around us and to be straight-forward, not mincing words, when faced with evil.

I just wish that some sections of the church here in Honduras and the US government were more direct in confronting the evils found here.

What has especially bothered me has been the one-sidedness of the condemnations of the Cardinal and others against Zelaya and the failure of the US to condemn the human rights abuses that have been noted by international groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

This is not to say that Zelaya is exempt from critique. Anyone who knows the history of the last few years here will recognize that he has done enough to deserve judicial proceedings and that Bishop Santos and Jesuit Ismael Moreno and others who oppose the coup were also critical of many of the policies and actions of Zelaya, and even more critical of the way that the Honduran Congress, led by Micheletti, opposed some major changes, especially in the mining law.

What I long for, though, are clear voices, like our bishop and the statements of the priests of our diocese.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Waiting, waiting, waiting

Here in Honduras we wait a lot. Some of this is due to the cultural bias toward waiting for everyone before beginning something – a way to make sure all are included.

But some waiting is due to the poverty. People wait in long lines in banks because there are not enough tellers. You wait for a store to contact a distant city to get a replacement part for your car or you have to go to another store to find it.

Some waiting is due to inefficiency. You wait in line to have one person look at your documentation for residency, then wait for another person to take your fingerprints, another person to take your photo, and then wait for someone to process it. (Now the process is a little more streamlined. I got my card in 20 minutes flat – though it was four months after I began the process. But I know people who’ve had to wait much more.)

But there seems to have arisen another cause for waiting – waiting for a solution to the current crisis. One must not free from blame those who would keep their power intact. So congress won’t come into session to consider the proposal from the agreement that Micheletti and Zelaya signed last Friday about the possible reinstatement of Zelaya as a limited president for a few months. They say they are waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision. But, as I understand it, Congress could call a special session as could Micheletti.

There is so much delay in this matter that it seems as if some just want to avoid change.

In the meantime, the toll has been great - not so much in people killed (though there have been some) but much more in the denial of civil rights and in what the poor have suffered as the economy has worsened.

My question: How long can the people wait for justice and at least an interim solution to this crisis?
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God.
They cried out in a loud voice, "How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?"
Revelation 6:9-10

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Economic Inequality

At Sunday Mass and tonight at the Mass for the feast of St. Martin De Porres, Padre Fausto Milla quoted paragraph 66 of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word, Gaudium et Spes:
“To satisfy the demands of justice and equity, strenuous efforts must be made, without disregarding the rights of persons or the natural qualities of each country, to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic inequalities, which now exist and in many cases are growing and which are connected with individual and social discrimination.”
That was proclaimed by the Council in December 1965, 44 years ago. Sadly the situation of Honduras (and many other countries) is beset by the same “immense economic inequalities.” In Honduras the richest 10% have 35 times more wealth than the poorest 10%.

Something must be done to remove these inequalities “as quickly as possible” in order that there be real peace with justice and that the people can live with the dignity that is theirs.
Saint Martin de Porres

Today the Catholic Church remembers a saint from the Americas – Martín, son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black slave. Despite the prejudices of his time he was allowed to become a lay brother in the Dominican friary in Lima, Perú. There he took upon himself the humblest tasks but was also noted for his knowledge and practice of healing. Trained as a barber which included learning about medicine, he also knew natural medicine. Many regarded him as a miracle worker.

There are many stories about Martin, some of his ability to be in two places at once (bilocation), others of his love of animals and his power to have a dog, a cat, and a mouse eat together from the same bowl. But there is one I especially like.
Martin would take the poor from the streets of Lima to his cell in the friary and let them rest on his bed as he cared for them. His superior ordered him to stop. But Martin continued to care for the poor in his cell. When his superior found out, he severely reprimanded Martin, who humbly responded, “Pardon my error and please be so kind as to teach me. I did not know that the command of obedience takes precedence over the command of love.” Henceforth, Martin was able to care for the poor and sick as he saw fit.
St. Martin de Porres is thus rightfully the patron saint of social justice as well as race relations. He ought to be the patron saint of natural medicine as well.

It is fitting that the first reading for the liturgy today happens to be from Romans 12.

As I read it this morning, I could not help but be struck by Romans 12: 10:
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
As I often do when I find a particularly moving passage in the lectionary readings, I check out several translations. The one above is from both the New American Bible and the New Revised Standard Version. The Spanish versions were weak, but the Jerusalem Bible really struck me:
Never be condescending but make real friends with the poor.
That’s been the gift I’ve received here in Honduras – to be able to make real friends with the lowly – with Gloria, Ovidio, Jesús, and so many others who have accepted me into their homes and have shared their lives with me.

As I ponder this verse, I also think that those who come to Honduras to help should take this in mind, especially the admonition to “never be condescending” and the final part of the verse “do not be wise in your own estimation.” So often we think we have something to give to these poor people, forgetting that they too may have deep wisdom and knowledge to share with us.

It was for this reason that I began several of my presentations in Iowa last month talking about the richness of Honduras, especially the richness of the Honduran people. It is condescending to just talk about them as "the unfortunate poor." They are a people with dignity and with resources and resourcefulness. If I had as little as some of them have, I would never survive.

I also think of the current crisis here in Honduras. If only all those involved really associated with the lowly, the resolution would be very different.

And so I pray that I may take to heart the way of life that Paul commends in Romans 12. And may all who live here and all who come to help see the wisdom of the God found there.


The story from St. Martin de Porres's life is taken from Robert Ellsberg's All Saints, a book I heartily recommend for its short accounts of the lives of holy men and women from all traditions.

I took the photo of the statue of St. Martin in the friary in Lima where he lived.