Sunday, February 28, 2010

Praising the Lord and a New Honduras

Friday, as I mentioned in my previous post, I went to Dulce Nombre to help in a liturgy workshop in the parish. It was the first of a series of six workshops in the next two years for those involved in liturgical ministry in their towns or villages. It is also part of the training for about 17 candidates to become extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist; they will be given two extra workshops/retreats as part of their two year preparation.

Fifty seven people showed up! There was someone from every one of the eleven sectors of the parish, with people from early twenties (about 3) to over sixty (about 7). Seeing that there are about 45 towns and villages in the parish, that’s a really good turnout.

Oblate of Divine Love Sister Sor Pedrina who works in the parish did the morning session. My task in the afternoon was to give an overview and introduction to the parts of the Mass.

Now you have to realize that most of these people have a sixth grade education - or less! So, my challenge was to make it as participative as possible and to get them to learn as much as possible.

I think I succeeded in making it participative with singing, group activities, and a contest to see who would be the first to find the scriptural texts for part of the Communion Rite.

Will they remember what I taught? That’s another question – though they have a 30 page booklet I prepared to help them go over the material.

They were full of questions. Some were very pointed: Why don’t we receive both the bread and the wine while the priest does? Others expressed a little confusion about different ways that some priests or parishes celebrate the Mass. In this, I tried to get them to see what aspects of some celebration are cultural adaptations and what are the essential aspects of celebrations of the Mass. I tried to be as respectful as I could on local customs.

One woman noted that she had heard a priest saying that after receiving communion one needn't genuflect to the tabernacle since you are carrying the Body of Christ within you, though that is a common custom here. What a marvelous insight this woman shared. I proceeded to note that after we receive we too are a "tabernacle," bearing within us the Body of Christ.

What was really fun for me was having them sing hymns or parts of the Mass when we discussed them. When we got to the Great Amen they sang the usual one that is used here – The Lilies of the Field “Amen.” So I gave them a challenge – which I’ll have to reiterate – to have their village music groups write an “Amen!” If they do it, I may have to record them and send them around the diocese and even to St. Thomas in Ames.

These types of activities are very life-giving for me. The faith and commitment of these people is outstanding. Not only did they travel significant distances but they also paid 50 lempiras (about $2.60) to participate. I look forward to the next workshop at the end of May.

I didn’t stay for the Saturday morning session since I wanted to be in Santa Rosa de Copán for the Forum on the National Reality that Caritas Santa Rosa was co-sponsoring with ERIC-SJ and Radio Progreso, two Jesuit-funded projects in the northern town of El Progreso, Yoro. You might remember that Radio Progreso was temporarily closed down by government forces just after the June 28 coup.

And so I got up early Saturday and rode into Santa Rosa with Padre Efraín Romero who is both the pastor of the Dulce Nombre parish and the director of Caritas of the diocese of Santa Rosa. He had the 6:00 am Mass at Radio Santa Rosa. (He is also director of communications for the diocese.)

After Mass, I walked home for a shower and breakfast. Then a little before 10 I headed to the “Casa de Cultura” where the Forum was being held. Needless to say, it started late.

The crowd was a little disappointing, about 100 at most, but the forum was broadcast on all the radio stations of the diocese as well as on Radio Progreso.

The commentator was Father Ismael (Melo) Moreno, a Honduran Jesuit priest who, I think, is a very perceptive commentator on the situation of Honduras. He is, I believe, the director of Radio Progreso and ERIC-SJ, as well as the head of the Jesuits in Honduras.

Padre Melo speaking in the Casa de Cultura in Santa Rosa

Padre Melo began with a note of true humility. The situation in Honduras, he said, is so complex that nobody can be sure that what he is saying is the truth. Recognizing this, he offered his remarks as an effort to construct space for discussion.

I won’t give you a play by play summary of his talk, but I’d like to share a few of this comments that struck me. (If you want a copy of my notes, e-mail me.)

Padre Melo is very critical of “bipartidismo,” a system here whereby the two major parties (the Liberal party and the National party) basically control government and share it. He noted how many government cabinets has members from both parties, at times related to the representation of the parties in Congress. Now this might sound like good bipartisanship but it’s really a system to maintain the parties in power (and I would aid let them both get their share of government projects and the fruits of corruption). Padre Melo and others would see this bipartidismo as a way to continue the hold of “monopoly capitalism” on Honduras.

He noted that one of the threats to the political and economic elites here was the opening to competition in the pharmaceutical industry (when President Zelaya negotiated cheaper prescription drugs from Cuba) and in the petroleum industry (when Zelaya negotiated a deal with Venezuela).

For Padre Melo, these and other efforts of Zelaya were tiny efforts to make changes to assist the poor, but the elites took these as major threats to their power.

He also proposed that the coup and the events before and after must be read continentally, in relation to the power blocks at work in Latin America. He also expressed his concern that the government of the newly inaugurated president, Pepe Lobo, might be – or become – an authoritarian regime.

But what I found interesting is his analysis of the groups involved in the Resistance and his proposals for the future.

The Resistance included the followers of Zelaya in the Liberal party as well as social movements traditionally connected with the left. But there was another group – the people who came out because they felt that the June 28 coup was an insult to their dignity.

What should the Resistance do?

It should define the content of the struggle, including a) the demand to preserve Honduras’s patrimony, its natural resources – the land and the environment; b) the social demands, including salary, health, work, housing; and c) demands regarding institutional politics in order to transform the Honduran government. This includes the demand for a constitutional convention (una asamblea constituyente). But, he noted if the demand for the “constituyente” is not linked with the other demands, it could be used against the Resistance. Even Pepe Lobo might call for a "constituyente."

The three task for the future of the Resistance include, first of all, to politicize the people. Politics is not necessarily a dirty word. (In traditional Catholic teaching it is the pursuit of the common good.) And so there is the need for political formation. For this purpose, ERIC-SJ will be leading a 7 month political formation school in Progreso, Yoro, and in Santa Rosa. In addition, Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán has begun a five session school of political formation throughout the diocese, training about 160 people in democracy and political participation.

The second task that Padre Melo mentioned is to organize the people. Here he is thinking about communitarian approached to community development in the communities where people live. As I understand it, this type of organization is not something that happens top down but is the effort of people at the local level, in the towns and villages, to organize so as to improve their lives, working together.

The third task is to mobilize the people.

In some ways a lot of what the Resistance has done, and has been able to do is to mobilize the people. The harder task of raising the political consciousness of the people and assist them in organizing at the local level is the long-term very hard work, which I think is necessary for any social change here.

Where will this lead? I hope that all sorts of efforts can be made for a Honduras where the life of every person is respected and where the people can participate actively and effectively in the life of their village, their neighborhood, and their nation.

But there are major obstacles – not least of which is the power of the elites to use their political and economic clout to suppress the initiatives of the people.

Father Melo sees Honduras at a crossroads: either an authoritarian regime or the construction of a democracy which is popular and participative, not merely representative.

I hope and pray – and will work – so that the future may be like what I experienced in Dulce Nombre on Friday, a people with great faith, working together for God and for their community.

The people I worked with are committed and they are generous. I was touched Friday night after dinner (beans, tortillas, a little cheese, and an egg) when one of the men offered me a packet of four cookies. What generosity, what a sign of what Honduras is – and can be.

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