Friday, October 08, 2010

The price of beans - and the church Honduras needs

Beans and corn are staples of the Honduran diet. Many don’t consider that they’ve eaten a real meal unless they have tortillas. And beans are usually eaten at two meals each day.

Note the pile of tortillas and the plate of beans.

The corn tortillas here in western Honduras are thick – not the flimsy almost transparent tortillas they have in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. They’re hefty – and I’ve seen people put away five tortillas or more in a meal.

Combined with beans, the tortillas make for almost all the protein we need. Cheese helps fill in some of the protein unavailable in the corn and bean combination.

But beans may become a luxury. About 60% of this year’s crop is lost – mostly due to the severe rains and flooding. The cost of beans has tripled since July!

The Zelaya government established a strategic reserve after a 2008 shortage, but the coup government of Micheletti sold it off to make money for itself.

A good analysis of this can be found at Honduras Culture and Politics.

What does this mean?

The hunger situation is already very serious in our part of the country. Workers in the Caritas/CRS mothers and infant health program have been telling me for months about the scarcity of food in the countryside. Even some of the women they’ve trained as monitors of the health of mothers and infants are having a hard time getting enough food. The small stipend they received for their time in trainings makes a difference in their families’ diets.

And so, the struggle continues.

But here in the diocese the struggle is not just for enough food. The diocese has taken a stand for real change in Honduras. The clergy and the bishop have agreed to promote a “National Constituent Assembly” to rewrite the constitution, but an assembly that reflects the poor who are the majority here.

The diocese considers it important to have people who are critically conscious of the reality here, their role as Christian citizens, and what can be done. And so the “schools for governability and participation” are being held in 10 sites throughout the diocese. In addition, there are series of workshops on Catholic Social Teaching.

The Church Honduras needs (and has in some places)

This past week I went out to Gaujiniquil, in the municipality of La Virtud, in southern Lempira for one of the Catholic Social Teaching workshops.

It was five hours driving there, mostly on horrendous roads – both paved and unpaved. (There was one 22 kilometer patch of the best road I have seen in Honduras – between San Marcos Ocotepeque and Cololaca, Lempira.)

The vistas from the road were incredible, though I had to concentrate on the road, since in a few places it is on the ridge of a mountain, with deep drop offs on both sides. A few times I stopped to take photos which don’t reflect the awesome beauty.

But the real beauty, as almost always, is the people.

The workshop for four parishes in southern Lempira deanery was largely run by lay people who had been to a training session a few weeks ago. Padre Ildefonzo helped a bit, as did I, but two lay women did an awesome job.

Clementina and Dunia observing a small group working on a topic in the workshop.

This was the second of three sessions and so Clementina began the workshop, asking people to share what they remembered from the first workshop. It was incredibly good, covering almost all the topics we treated in Tomala in August. (I think it was so good because they had shared the material in their parishes.)

One of the exercises was to look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT in English, FODA in Spanish) of the country, the deanery, and the parishes, as well as in the ministries. At one point they had to prioritize the weaknesses and threats of their original lists.

Some themes that came to the fore were the political and economic situation of the country, the breakdown of the family, and emigration. In addition, when they looked at the three ministries of pastoral work (prophetic, liturgical, and social), each group identified fear as a weakness, in one case the fear of denouncing injustice.

Some of them shared briefly the situation in this area in the 1980s, when delegates of the Word and other pastoral workers feared for their lives – and a few were killed by government or paramilitary troops.

The bravery of these people, their commitment to their faith, and their willingness to be involved in a church that has committed itself to those most in need is inspiring and challenging.

I’m continually reminded of this. On the way back I gave a ride to one of the participants and dropped him off on the way. He had to walk four hours to get to his village!

And what do they want? Justice, enough food for their families, land to work, and more.

And what do they want of the church?

One exercise of the workshop was applying a short article of Father Pablo Richard to their situation, answering the question “What model of church does Honduras need to overcome the present crisis?”

The responses included:
  • a deanery that is unified from the lay people to the pastors, working for the same cause: the preferential option for the poor, defending their rights and denouncing the attacks and injustice that are committed against the people.
  • a church that is the voice of those who don’t have a voice
  • a united parish, in solidarity, seeking the preferential option for the poorest
  • strengthening the church base community and the Triple Ministry [prophetic, liturgical, and social] looking at the example of the first Christian communities
  • A transforming church that takes up the pain of the people with deeds, and not [only] with words
  • base communities that are the seed or the starting point of the solutions and the demands [that come from] the Church’s social teaching.
I could write much more, but I think this is enough to get us thinking about what kind of Church do we need – and that we are called to live. What strikes me is that these people are thinking of a church that does not close itself off from the world, nor of a church that is serving their needs, but of a church that serves the neediest.

May we begin to see more signs of this here in Honduras – and throughout the world.


One closing thought, Penny Lernoux, a journalist committed to the church of the poor in Latin America, died on October 8, 1989, 21 years ago. Her 1982 book, The Cry of the People: The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America — the Catholic Church in conflict with U.S. Policy, is a classic for understanding what has happened and is happening here. Her later book, People of God, details the challenges that the liberating pastoral work of the Latin American Church faced. I recommend both books.

This morning I read this quote from her in Robert Ellsberg's Blessed Among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.
You can look at a slum or peasant village ... but it is only by entering into that world — by living in it – that you begin to understand what it is like to be powerless, to be like Christ.


Border Explorer said...

Thanks so much for this post, John. It was really beautiful...over and over again.

Tim Malone said...

John, how feasible is it, do you think, to enter into the reality of the poorest of the poor? Obviously this helps us to identify with those in greatest need, and perhaps enables us to understand what we can do to help. However this is the eternal dilemma for me as a "privileged" person, by the standards of the rest of the world, who desires to help the poorest, but knows not how since my life is bound by the strictures of the privileged culture in which I live. Loans taken out here for education, a need to get a job in the US. How can we contribute in some concrete way other than to send money? What else can be done? I am open to doing anything that can be done from here, or while abroad in other countries.

You are a great model for anyone who holds the desire to help others in the depths of their heart, especially those of Latin America.

God bless you and your work.