Sunday, May 02, 2010


Last Friday and Saturday I was busy with two workshops, where I was the major presenter – all in Spanish. (These people are really tolerant of my butchering of their language.)

The workshop for catechists began Friday morning in the Dulce Nombre parish. There were two locations for the workshop which lasted until noon Saturday. But I was only helping with the Friday morning session in Dulce Nombre.

On Monday Padre Julio César had suggested that I do something on the role of the catechist. I searched and searched and even asked help from Kathy White, the Director of Religious Education at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. She sent me lots of good resources, but I found a prepared program from the US bishops in Spanish which I adapted.

As almost always I am overwhelmed by these people.

It was a small group – 22; they had expected 30. But many had come from distant villages, walking hours or finding a ride on the back of a pick up for an hour.

During the workshop some people shared how they became catechists. Dilia recounted how her older sister had been a catechist and so she wanted to do the same. After her first communion she started and has been a catechist for 14 years. She loves it and, she said, when she doesn’t teach a class on Sunday she feels a void in her life.

At the end of my presentation the catechists were invited to write a letter to Jesus expressing their commitment as catechists. Two women are illiterate and so I said they could draw or do whatever; God will read whatever is in your heart. But I was especially struck by an elderly catechist who I presume can read but can’t write very well. Her grandson, who was with her, wrote her letter as she dictated her thoughts to him. It was touching to see them working together.

I left about three o’clock to get to the other workshop that weekend. The priests at the cathedral parish in Santa Rosa had asked me to do a workshop on Catholic Social Teaching for the leaders of the social ministry in the rural sector of the parish. I gladly agreed.

But I worked my tail off. I know Catholic Social Teaching but choosing what to emphasize in two days and preparing it in a way that would be understandable were challenges. The day before the workshop I finally had the booklet prepared, but of course I didn’t use it exactly during the workshop.

They had expected 30 people but only 12 arrived. As a result we truncated the workshop to finish at 5:30 on Saturday instead of 1:00 on Sunday.

But what a group it was. What fun I had and I learned an awful lot from them.

The workshop was in progress when I arrived about 4. They were in middle of an intense discussion about the reality of Honduras with Ismael Garcia, a Caritas staff person. It was a heated discussion at times, especially when they talked about the role of the church. Some were concerned about the divisions in the church after the coup. Some were concerned that many of the lay people were not listening to the diocesan priests and the bishop, especially in regard to their opposition to the coup. That discussion could have gone on the whole weekend. But Father Henry, the associate pastor of the cathedral, suggested we move on.

And so I began my work, facilitating the sessions, using a popular education approach – lots of activities, questions and activities but not much lecturing.

There were a few things that struck me. One was the difficulty of understanding social sin and sinful social structures. I thought I knew what these are and could explain them. But they are not so easy to explain. We finally got around to using examples to help understand them. These helped me to distinguish between sins that have social consequences, sins that are social by nature (sins against justice and peace) , and structures of sin. I’m beginning to think that structures might also be discussed as cultures or customs of sin. They allow sin to take place, or encourage sins to take place, or make goodness difficult.

I had prepared a booklet – which I will be updating and working on – especially this section on Social sin. But the extended discussion we had really helped me clarify my thoughts. I couldn’t get to sleep right away after that discussion (partly due to dive-bombing insects where I was sleeping) and had time to work out a formulation which I shared with the participants the next morning. They had really helped me. (The poor are great teachers!)

We had morning prayer at 6:30 in the chapel where we were staying. Saturday was May 1, Labor Day, for almost all the world. (There were marches for labor rights and in support of the resistance throughout Honduras and there were marches in support of immigrant rights in the US!) The Catholic Church has taken advantage of this and made May 1 the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

And so we reflection on the gospel for the feast, Matthew 13: 54-58: Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth where his authority is questioned since his father was a carpenter among them.

I was deeply moved at the reflections – especially as I noted the image of Jesus the worker on the wall of the chapel: Jesus is there with his hoe and machete. I could not help recall the hymn from the Nicaraguan Campesino Mass: “Vos sos el Dios de los pobres.”

You are the God of the poor,
a God human and simple,
a God who sweats in the street,
with a tanned face;
that’s why I am talking with you
as I talk with my people,
because you are a worker God,
Christ the worker.

You walk hand in hand with my folk,
you struggle in the countryside and city,
you get into line in the camp
where they pay you your day’s wage.

I suggested we end our reflection with the hymn, which they sang heartily, though off-key.

That day, after we worked on the basic principles we treated two major themes, work and the land: work which was appropriate for the day and land, which was appropriate for these people, campesinos.

Talking about caring for creation I mentioned ecological agricultural practices. But I was challenged – a challenge I had partly anticipated - by Rigo, one of the participants ,who informed me that many campesinos work on rented land and therefore it makes no sense for them to initiate expensive practices which won’t benefit them in the future. I was partly ready for this since the next theme was the unjust distribution of the land, but I was surprised at the responses to the informal poll I took. Not a single one of the seven men who farmed worked on land they owned. Three had some land where they planted coffee but not one of them had their own land to plant the basic crops of corns and beans. They have to rent the land – for about $105 a manzana (1.68 acres). Thus there is no incentive for long-term improvements to the land.

After this dicussion, I changed a bit what I had planned to do in this section and shared the story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21. The king wants Naboth’s land but Naboth doesn’t want to sell it because it’s been in his family for ages. So the queen arranges to have Naboth killed and the prophet Elijah comes in and chews them out in very strong terms. We reflected how this is related to the situation here. In most of the villages where these people live just a few families own most of the land; in addition, large land owners have come in and cut down forests so they can graze cattle. Land grabbing is the norm – not sharing the goods of the earth.

After this I shared with them the strong statements of the church for land reform, but I know that is a long-term struggle here in Honduras. And I'm not sure how many people in the church are willing to stake their lives struggling for this.

At the end of the workshop we came back to the theme of politics and the right and duty of all to participate in politics (in the broad sense) to promote the common good. We got back to the question of the church and political opinions. Rigo again impressed me as he spoke of the need for the laity to speak their mind. It was encouraging to hear someone with a critical consciousness.

The workshop ended with Mass and I left wishing we had had more time. They were so much fun to be with and I wish I could get to know them more. (But at Mass Father Henry encouraged them to invite me when they replicate the workshops in their sectors of the parish.)

They are probably not a representative group since they are involved in the social ministry in their rural villages, though one woman told me that before the workshop she had thought of social ministry almost exclusively in visiting the sick.

On a personal note, I was very pleased that during the evaluation they liked the methodology we used. I guess I managed to find a few good ways to get the message across. They also thought I was clearer than some presenters they’ve had – even though they suffered my grammatical errors. At one point we laughed when I spoke of the holy potato (la papa) instead of the pope (el papa), an error I quickly corrected!

I returned home exhausted but feeling very blessed.

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