Saturday, February 19, 2011

Small steps

The last two days have been significant for me in small ways.

Franciscans -

Today, Saturday, a young Honduran woman took temporary vows as a member of the Franciscans Sisters of [Mary] Immaculate, the sisters who live down the street from me. The profession was during a Mass at the church of San Martín up the hill from where I live.

The sisters’ congregation was established in Spain and works with the poor, including with lepers in India. Here the sisters – three Spaniards and one from India – work with a variety of people in various places, from rural villages seeking electricity to the local prison where they helped start a carpentry shop, to a project for mentally and physically handicapped children that’s just starting.

Here in Santa Rosa they also house twelve girls from the countryside who are going to school here. Without this help most of these girls would probably never have the chance to get a good middle school and high school education. Lilian who made her first vows today was one of these girls.

The sisters have welcomed me here and helped me find a place to live on this street. I feel almost as if they have “adopted” me. They have made me feel at home and I feel comfortable dropping by every once in a while – and they also want to give me something to eat when I drop by. Typical hospitality.

Sister Nancy, a Dubuque Franciscan sister serving in Gracias, was also at the profession. We had spoken a bit before the Mass – always a blessing – about a number of concerns in the country as well as about our lives. Nancy is responsible for me being here in Honduras, introducing me to the bishop and inspiring me with her commitment and she has been a great friend and support here. Another sister, Brenda, is also in Gracias and they have a young Honduran postulant living with them. It's always a joy to spend some time with them - talking, playing dominoes, and eating some of the good food and desserts (especially chocolate treats).

It's a blessing to have them near.Another blessing is that I am in the process of becoming an associate of their congregation – returning to my Franciscan roots.

A pilot project

Friday I had gone to Dulce Nombre for the Parish Council meeting. About thirty people were there. I had a short time at the end of the meeting to get their input on a process we’re hoping to start up.

Though I’ll continue my work with the diocesan Caritas office and my helping in training of pastoral workers in the parish of Dulce Nombre, I’ll be working with two or three of the poorest villages of the parish. I had been thinking of this and Padre Efraín had also been thinking of something in the same vein.

The idea is to work with the villages in an integral way – from strengthening base communities and religious education to eventually projects to improve the lives of the people in the villages. We’ll go in with no money and no preconceived ideas of what projects to do. It's a long term process.

My hope is that the people will deepen their sense of community and commitment and work together to decide what they will do.

Where will we work?

Padre Efraín had an idea of which villages to choose, but I insisted that we should have the parish council choose. Last month I asked the parish council members to go back to their zones and decide which villages to suggest for the project.

The councils of the three zones made some suggestions which were shared at the parish council meeting yesterday. Then I had them break into small groups and prioritize the list of communities.

I’m not sure they all understood what I was asking them to do but the process worked out well. I was surprised at the result. It seemed clear that two villages that are close to each other – but quite far from the parish center – were their choice. I had expected another village to be chosen since it is extremely poor, but their decision was for these two villages. It's a hard decision since almost all the villages are very poor, but they made it.

After checking this choice with Padre Efraín, I’ll start by going out and meeting folks.

This is for me exciting, though a little daunting. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, though I do have an idea about the way I’d like to approach this.

But going in without money may actually be quite liberating. We, the people in the villages and I, need to recognize the gifts we have and the successes that the people have already accomplished, and go from there – dreaming of a better village and trying to make that dream real.

So, I’m embarking on a new adventure, something I really look forward to since I love working with the people in the countryside, people with great faith and resilience.

For me this is another way to return to the vision that inspired me to come here – to be of service to those most in need. Now I hope to accompany these villages – in deepening our faith in God and in the service of building a just society.

Pray that we may do this well.


Tom and Laura (Tomas y Laurita) said...

That sounds like a really exciting new adventure John! I hope it goes well. I like the way you described your approach going in. The liberation of no monetary-backing struck a chord with me. I would often look around the parish center here or the Preschool and think about all the 'problems' I could fix with some money (money we have access to). Somewhere in my mind I want things to look like they look back home- because that in my brain is what's right, I guess. But I am trying to challenge myself to work within the system and like you said, see the beauty that is there. After six months here, I'm not seeing nearly as many 'problems' as I first did. And the ones I do see are the same spiritual/emotional poverties one could find in any culture, and won't be solved with money. It's interesting being a witness to people's struggles knowing that those struggles could have been prevented (such as all the children with rotting teeth here) and yet instead of marching in flashing $ as a solution, just continuing to be a witness. It could sound heartless yet I respect people so much more once I know what they live with, what they suffer in silence (possibly not knowing life could be another way?). Something I will continue to think about. Thanks for the thought-provoking material as always! I am enjoying your walk the way entries as well.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

What a great reflection. We here in Latin America as privileged North Americans need to see the wisdom and the resilience of the people. And then our response is to accompany them, not bringing a solution - but working with them. There's a quote that I love from Lilla Watson, an aborigine from Australia:
“If you’re coming to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you have [come] because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”