Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Weather, land, and the poor

It’s been hot here during the day and raining almost every night. So there’s been lots of mud. This is especially tricky in the countryside where I got stuck in the mud on Sunday as I tried to pull over to let another care pass. I was going out to Mass in the village of Quebraditas. 

Padre Efraín at Mass in Quebraditas

 The front right wheel got stuck in about 20 inches of mud. Six guys tried to get me out but it took another pick up truck pulling and the guys pushing to get me out.

This happened in El Zapote de Santa Rosa, a community I’ve often visited. Yet I didn’t know the guys who first came and helped. The car that passed by and finally got me out was full of folks I know, mostly from Candelaria. They were returning from helping with the Sunday Celebration of the Word in El Zapote. Again, relying on the kindness of strangers, of the poor here who help as much as they can.

Back in Santa Rosa, I took my truck to my mechanic and got the bumper and the wheel well fixed.

Mud is on my mind. They’re starting to work on the street where I live, preparing to pave. And so the street is a mess. I also have to store my truck at Caritas since they cut off the ramp to my garage and I don’t think my truck can navigate a twelve inch step!

But in the midst of these little troubles of mine, I am reading more about the situation in the northeast of Honduras in the Bajo Aguán. This past week there have been about 10 more people killed. This brings the death toll in that area to more than 40. In addition the Honduran government has sent about 1000 soldiers and police to the region.

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, I don’t know all the details of the situation. Some are claiming that the organized peasant groups have taken up arms, something I rather doubt. Others claim that there are groups of thieves who are stealing fruit and other items who are responsible for some of the violence. This is also an area where you can find some drug-trafficking.

But at the center of the dispute is the problem of land. Much of the good land, planted with the lucrative African palm – used for both palm oil and biodiesel, is owned by three persons, one of whom, Miguel Facussé, is one of the richest persons in Honduras and was a major force in support of the 2009 coup d’état. From what I can discern, he obtained much of the land in underhanded ways.

The issue of ownership of land and other resources is central to any effort to ensure a good life to the poor here.

I have recently heard of another potential land problem which may arise in future years. Groups are coming in to a region of the department of Lempira and offering money for land. Why is unclear, though some people think it is related to possible mineral deposits.

But why would poor people sell their land?

When you have to provide for your family who are starving, the offer of a few hundred dollars for your land is appealing since it offers a way out of the current crisis. Of course, it doesn’t solve the problem but makes it worse.

And so the poor suffer, the very people who will often go out of their way to help a stranger.

I, though, am privileged to be able to accompany them here in western Honduras. And I'll have more opportunities to be in the countryside in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.

Last Tuesday, Padre Julio César Galdámez, who had been the associate pastor of Dulce Nombre, was installed as pastor of a new parish, San Juan Bosco. The parish includes parts of Santa Rosa de Copán as well as the municipality of Vera Cruz, which had been part of the parish of Dulce Nombre. 

At Father Julio's farewell Mass in Dulce Nombre

Though this means the parish of Dulce Nombre has five less villages, there are still about 40 some towns and villages and more than 40,000 people.

I had been planning to do more in the countryside. This change makes it more urgent to help Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor. 

And so I'll be going out more often. I'm starting this week, going out to a Holy Hour on Thursday to El Zapote. In September, I'll be taking the Eucharist to two remote villages for their Sunday Celebration of the Word.

It's a little thing I can do - but for the people it is important, since they have a deep love of the Eucharist.

I will be gone from this area for a while starting in September. I have been asked to lead a retreat for the volunteers of the Farm of the Child in Trujillo, on the north coast. Then I'm off to Lima, Perú. In January 2010 I was sent by Caritas Santa Rosa to take part in a workshop on World Vision's problem of encouraging local churches to respond to HIV and AIDS. Last November World Vision asked me to be part of an informational session in Bogota, Colombia, on the project for people from the Latin America Bishops' Conference (CELAM). This year there is a training session the World Vision is doing for CELAM in Lima, Perú, and I've been asked to help. They are paying my way there, but otherwise it's another way of volunteering to help those at the margin of society.

After that I'll be in the US for about five weeks for my annual visit. After a week in the Philadelphia area I'll be in Detroit for a few days retreat and then a series of talks at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Then I'll get to St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames where I'll be meeting with folks from the parish that is supporting me here and has a relationship with the parish of Dulce Nombre. I also have a few other speaking opportunities and am looking for more. (If you're interested, email me.)

The trip back to the US is important, though I really don't want to leave for such a  long time. I see it as part of what people call "reverse mission," a way of sharing the wealth of the people in Honduras with people in the US.

It just again a little thing that I can do to witness to the faith and love of the people here and to invite people to join in solidarity with the poor and their struggles for justice and a decent life.

Dulce Nombre Youth at Padre Julio's installation as San Juan Bosco pastor.

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