Friday, February 05, 2010

The Virgin of Suyapa - without comment

An altar of the virgin of Suyapa in a house in Misiora, Lepaera, Lempira

On Wednesday, February 3, Honduras celebrated the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras. In Tegucigalpa the tiny state has been an object of veneration since the statue was found by a campesino in 1747 outside Tegucigalpa. Information on the story can be found on Wikipedia. There is also a short, interesting note on the blog Honduras Culture and Politics.

I spent the morning in Plan Grande, in the municipality of Concepción, Copán, at a beautiful celebration of the consecration of their new church. Bishop Santos came and for the people it was a great joy, for it was the first time the bishop had come to their village (though he’s been at other nearby villages several times in the past.)

Mass lasted more than two hours because the consecration of a church is quite a unique liturgy – beginning outside the church where the community hands over the keys to the bishop. Inside the liturgy proceeds as usual until after the homily when the church is blessed with holy water; then the altar and the five crosses on the wall are anointed with chrism (which is otherwise reserved for baptisms, confirmations, and priestly and episcopal ordination.) These are followed with incensing and lighting of candles. And then placing a white cloth on the altar. (All this reminded me of the liturgy of baptism.)

Hundreds of people were there – and the music was led by La Gran Familia, a musical group from Plan Grande who have written their own music.

It was a beautiful celebration on a beautiful, sunny day in a community where I feel really at home. The village has some special connections with St Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames. The first spring break trip from St. Thomas in 2008 spent a day in Plan Grande helping to carry rocks for the foundations.

The St. Thomas group of university students – 4 women and 1 man - with the pastor, Padre Efraín Romero, and me, arrived to see the men and boys of the community carrying rocks, mixing cement, and filling in the foundations. We joined them and I think they were surprised to see the women carrying the large rocks. Within thirty minutes the little girls of the village were joining us in carrying rocks for the foundations. One major step forward in promoting the equality and dignity of women – without speeches or external cultural imposition. It was a real sharing.

There has also been some sharing of drawings between the students in religious education at St. Thomas and the students in religious education in Plan Grande. It’s been the one place where this type of interchange has made the most inroads.

The Mass was festive - though long. And after Mass there was food for everyone.

But one thing struck me during the Mass. Here there is a strong Eucharistic piety and they often sing a short refrain during the elevation of the consecrated bread and wine – the Body and Blood of Christ. The refrain during the elevation of the Blood of Christ touched me: “The Blood of Christ has power to undo the evil of my being.” I thought of the great need Honduras has for undoing the evil that afflicts the people here and has afflicted them for years before the June 28 coup and that I believe was exacerbated by the coup.

It was therefore with some consternation that I read a report in Zenit about the Mass Cardinal Rodriguez celebrated in Tegucigalpa at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Suyapa.

I will translate a few paragraphs from his homily, some are words that Hondurans truly wanted to hear:
Reconciliation is necessary because there has been a effort to present the lie as the truth, evil as if it were good, and justice as injustice….

This new stage for Honduras which seeks reconciliation and social justice, reminds us of the prayers which pray that in a humanity divided by enmity and discords God may direct our wills to open them up to reconciliation….

The Holy Spirit is able to move hears so that enemies recover their sight, that adversaries shake hands, and the peoples seek union.
But the Cardinal, in the presence of the newly elected president, Pepe Lobo, as well as present and former coup government officials, including General Romeo Vásquez, added:
Today is a special day to give thanks to God, through the mediation of the Virgin Mary, for our Honduras, for our liberty, sovereignty and independence which Don Roberto Micheletti [former de facto president] knew how to defend with the Armed Forces together with thousands of us Honduran men and women who wish to be part of the solutions and not of the problems….

We don’t need to wait to 2021 to celebrate 200 years of independence. History will tell the truth because in the months that have just gone by we have had authentic founding fathers/heroes [proceres] struggling for our independence.
The cardinal closed his homily calling for a concern “for the poorest, for those most in need, for the marginalized and excluded, for the elderly among us, for children and youth who are the greatest riches we have.”

And so I recall the refrain we sang at the Mass in Plan Grande:
La sangre de Cristo tiene poder de deshacer el mal de mi ser.

The Blood of Christ has power to undo the evil of my being.

The work site in Plan Grande in March 2008.
(The old church is the white building in the background.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post and pictures, Brother John. I'm sure you saw my wry comment at Honduras Culture and Politics on La Virgen de Suyapa as a national icon.

The Cardemal really is a piece of work. This sort of thing, vain boasting of being the new Founding Fathers of Honduras would be followed by a bolt of lightning if I had anything to do with it.

But even more pernicious was the statement "Reconciliation is necessary because there has been a effort to present the lie as the truth, evil as if it were good, and justice as injustice…." Technically it's true, but only because he doesn't name the malefactors. The lies presented as truth have been by the dictatorship, the injustice [I think you have the two words backward] as justice the work of the State Department, and the evil presented as good is seen in the Cardemal's own words.

The principal stumbling block in my spiritual life is theodicy. How can God permit the Cardinal to say such things? I try to expand my understanding of God to encompass a being who not only allows suffering, but allows those who inflict it to boast of their goodness and go unpunished, year upon year. My mind is too small to even get a sense of how enormous God's patience must be.

Don Corleone, Don Micheletti, different branches, same Family.


John (Juan) Donaghy said...

The Zenit report on the cardinal actually has the phrase "la justicia como injusticia", odd as that may be.

RAJ said...

The community of faith needs to be something in which all the people can feel included. By politicizing faith as he has, the Cardinal aligns himself with an old and once repudiated history in which the Church was only for the powerful.

Suyapa's history, which we hope to cover more in the future, is one that began with the people. Her encasement in a Cathedral is literally the substantiation of the removal of faith from the people.

Your account of the local reality of faith is thus doubly inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Brother John says, "The Zenit report on the cardinal actually has the phrase [Reconciliation is necessary because there has been a effort to present ...] "la justicia como injusticia", odd as that may be."

Well, in that case, I can't accuse the Cardinal [or at least the report of what he said] of speaking nothing but lies. But I suspect the report is better than the reality.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Another account without comment. At the "toma de posesión" - the inaugural - of Pepe Lobo, Tegucigalpa auxiliary bishop Juan José Pineda took off his stole, symbol of his priestly and episcopal authority, kissed it and gave it to Pepe Lobo.