Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What's real here in Honduras

The past 8 days I have been hosting a group from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. During that time we’ve spent four days in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

One day we did some work on a retaining wall the parish is building for a small cancha, a futbol [soccer] field on the parish grounds as well for a wall of a kitchen and dining room the parish will be building to serve the parishioners who come in from the countryside for retreats and training sessions.

On Monday some of us helped in the distribution of fertilizer for the parish’s program for promoting family gardens and increasing production of basic grains.

My theology (I originally wrote philosophy) for visiting groups is that they come not so much to do something as to be here with the people. It is good that people have a chance to do something but I believe it should be doing something with Hondurans in one of their projects. I have some strong opinions on this which I’ll share in a later post.

This group spent Saturday morning visiting the rural village of Las Delicias, high up in the mountains of the parish, for a Mass with the villages of that sector of the parish. Padre Julio César Gáldamez took us out in the parish pickup and celebrated the Mass. After Mass, one of the families of Las Delicias gave us lunch. While we ate a conjunto, a music group, from town played. The hospitality of these people was,as customary, wonderful.


In the evening the group joined the people in Dulce Nombre for the celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost. People came in from several other towns and villages – 40 people from Vera Cruz in two cars (at least that’s what they told me), 60 from Dolores in a bus, and others from Candelaria and Plan Grande. We gathered at about 7:00 pm at a water tank up from the church and after prayer around a fire we walked in procession to the church.

The Mass, which lasted until almost 11 pm, was extremely spirited – with much singing led by a musical group from Dolores (which is influenced by the charismatic movement) and La Gran Familia, an extraordinary group of brothers and cousins from Plan Grande.

Here, especially in the countryside, the people often clap while singing. So the Mass was very spirited, especially since many of the hymns sang of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Father Julio was particularly animated as he led the people in song (and motivated the people listening to the Mass over the diocesan radio station.)

The Mass proved to be for many in the group a highlight, since it showed the deep faith and profound religiosity of the people, expressed in a very enthusiastic way.


Sunday the group went with the pastor, Father Efraín Romero, to Mass in Vega Redonda, a poor village in the midst of extensive grazing lands held mostly by five landowners. The group was welcomed warmly and, again, given a fine lunch by one of the families in the village.

In the evening we went to the nearby town of Dolores for a most spirited Mass, celebrated by Padre Efraín. This community has been influenced by the charismatic movement and has very spirited singing. But what surprised me was that as the sharing of the Peace of Christ began more than 40 kids ran – yes, ran – up the center aisle to greet the priest.


Monday two of the group stayed in Dulce Nombre for the morning since Carl Bern, a professor of agricultural engineering at Iowa State, wanted to spend time with Marcos who has been making silos and teaching others how to do it.

The three others of us went out to distribute fertilizer for corn production to various rural villages that are taking part in the parish’s agricultural program.

We delivered about 23 sacks of fertilizer to the town of San Antonio, Dolores, and the two students with me waited for the pick up to go back and get 17 sacks for a town up the hill.


For a while we sat on the steps of the church and I talked with Jaime, who is working with the project there. WE talked of many things, including coffee production. He has about a manzana and a half (about two acres) but only part of it is in production this year since he pruned some trees recently. This past year he got about 32 cargas (a carga is 200 pounds) from that manzana – but in good years he can get about 49. He proudly noted that he uses very little chemical fertilizer; he mentioned that those who use chemical fertilizer can get a little more than 50 cargas but the effects on the soil are disastrous.

Jaime sells his coffee to an intermediary for about $180 for a carga; the intermediary transports it to a nearby collection point in Dolores where the intermediary is paid about $185 to $195 per carga.

In August or July he can get $9 per carga from IHCAFE, the Honduran government coffee institute. if he presents the invoices. He called it a retención, a sort of retainer, possibly given after the coffee has been sold internationally.

What struck me is that he sells his coffee in the form of “café oro” – which means he has removed the pulp, he has dried the beans in the sun, and has removed the thin film around the coffee bean. If he had not taken the time and effort to do this he would have gotten a lower price.

After the Dolores plant receives the coffee, it is taken to a regional beneficio and then prepared to distribution.

As often in agriculture, even in the US, so many intermediaries get their share of the profits and little makes it back to the producer. Small niche coffee markets – such a s fair trade – make it possible for the small producers to get a good price, but that’s quite a long-term process.

After a while we walked around town with Belsi, one of the workers in the parish’s agriculture project.

We walked down to the school and spoke with one of the two teachers in the two classroom school, as the kids were having a mid-morning meal of soy milk, rice, and ticucos (a local corn and bean variant on tamales), provided with the aid of the World Food Program. Here there are two teachers for six grades with 83 students. But I was impressed that the classes are for about five and a half hours a day – in both the morning and the evening.

I asked about students going beyond sixth grade. Eight students walk about 40 minutes each way to the Centro Básico in Dolores for the equivalent of middle school. If they can go beyond that they have to go to Dulce Nombre or Santa Rosa.

This is the situation throughout much of the country, especially in the countryside. Usually no more than one-third of those who could go past sixth grade actually do so. The reasons are varied, including some failure to place value on education in some families. But access is also a real issue.

After leaving the school we walked down toward the cancha, the futbol field. On the way we met Suyapa. I noticed that she wore a shirt of one of the volunteer monitors for the maternal and infant health program Caritas is running. I talked to her about that and found that she was also involved in the parish’s agriculture project and teaches in the pre-kindergarten, as a volunteer. The municipal authorities, though, have recently been giving her a small stipend for this.) She’s a single mother with four kids but is involved in her community. I found out later that her husband was killed four months ago, as a result of one of the squabbles that often leads to violence here.

But she still struggles along – and supports her community.

When we got to the cancha we saw two other monitors of the program weighing babies in the porch of a house across the road. I dropped by and found that the three monitors in the village were attending 38 children! I took a few pictures of kids being weighed who were crying like made. (I don’t know if we three gringos scared them or what.)

I noticed that the monitors were wearing shirts of the program and noted that the shirts had the logo of Caritas as well as CRS (Catholic Relief Services, the US bishops’ international aid agency) which is supporting the program with its own funds and funds of the World Monetary Fund.

It’s good to see this work in progress in the rural communities, a small way to assist people in need.

In the afternoon we went out to two other places to distribute more fertilizer.


The group heads out to San Pedro Sula to leave early Wednesday morning to return to Iowa – to continue and deepen the solidarity between the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, with the Dulce Nombre Parish.

Recently St. Thomas sent the parish of Dulce Nombre an invitation to establish a relationship of partnership in solidarity. At the May 15 Dulce Nombre parish council meeting the approved the following statement to send to St. Thomas Aquinas.


Letter agreeing to form a partnership in solidarity

Brothers and sisters in Christ our Lord in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas,

We, the faithful of the parish “Dulce Nombre de Maria” [“Sweet Name of Mary”], in response to your letter of invitation, are pleased to form part of a partnership in solidarity, whose purpose is to strengthen the bonds of unity, partnership and the mission to extend the Kingdom of God, walking together as brothers and sisters to encounter the Lord through the interchange of culture and faith in the two sister/partner parishes, without borders that might separate us.

In our parish, we are organized in groups of brothers and sisters called church base communities led by coordinators, village council, pastoral workers trained to preach the Word of God, catechists for the religious education and sacramental instruction of children and adults.

We are organized in the Three-fold Ministry
  • a) liturgical: this includes celebration of Mass, celebrations of the Word, religious education, retreats, gatherings, sacraments , etc. [This also includes music.]
  • b) prophetic: planning of pastoral work. [This actually includes religious education.]
  • c) social: visiting the sick, helping those in need, attending to the material needs of the church, community projects, construction and repair of houses of prayer (churches). [This also includes a major agricultural project to improve production of basic grains – corn and beans – as well as to promote small family gardens.]
The territory of the church is very large. The work of evangelization is entrusted to men and women volunteers who, as committed lay persons, help our pastor [Padre Efraín Romero] and associate pastor [Padre Julio César Galdámez].

We thank St. Thomas parish for their material, economic, and human assistance, and the presence of a missionary, brother John [Donaghy] who carries out a full time work in our parish.

[We thank] the Catholic students of the university of Ames, Iowa, USA [Iowa State University] some of whom when visiting us have come to know about the work of our parish, our culture, and the religious life [of our people]. Joining us in our social work in their recent visits and their travel in the village of our parish. Thanks for their contribution.

We reaffirm our ongoing commitment to pray from our villages just as you pray for us in order that we may find strength around the Lord.

We share your thought that together we will achieve great things to strengthen our Catholic Church - a universal church without borders- and [to strengthen[ our cultures.

Our fervent desire is that it might become a reality what the apostle Paul expressed in his letter to the Romans 1: 8-15:
First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is heralded throughout the world. God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in proclaiming the gospel of his Son, that I remember you constantly, always asking in my prayers that somehow by God's will I may at last find my way clear to come to you.

For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another's faith, yours and mine.

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I often planned to come to you, though I was prevented until now, that I might harvest some fruit among you, too, as among the rest of the Gentiles.

To Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the wise and the ignorant, I am under obligation; that is why I am eager to preach the gospel also to you in Rome.
Greetings to your parish, thanks and greetings to the young students of the University of Ames, Iowa [Iowa State University] for having St. Thomas Aquinas as patron of students. He was the composer [author] of hymns and praise songs that we sing during the exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament and which show that “To have Jesus is to have everything.”

Separated by distance, united in faith and prayer, we will make real the partnership of solidarity in the Communion of Saints.

Let it be so.

Parish of Dulce Nombre de Maria


Photos from the May 2010 immersion can be found in a Flickr set of mine.

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