Friday, March 16, 2012

Fallible Honduras reflections by St. Thomas pastor

Fr. Jon with kids in Plan Grande
Father Jon Seda, the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, visited here in February.  I wrote of his visit in an earlier blog entry here. He wrote a few reflections on his visit and shared them with me and the parish of St. Thomas. They are full of wisdom and wit. I want to share them with others.

Fr. Jon Seda
February 13-21, 2012

In visiting our sister parish, Dulce Nombre de Maria, recently, I learned a few things:

If you think our sound system has issues, you should hear theirs!

I pledge to never, ever again complain about potholes in Ames or washboards on gravel roads here.

I was able to concelebrate three wedding Masses.  Two were at a Friday morning Mass, where the grooms dressed in nice blue jeans, one bride had a simple veil, and the other bride had a nice wedding dress.  During Padre Henry's homily, someone who I assume was the grandmother handed an infant to that bride, who started to breastfeed the child.  Apparently Honduran wedding dresses are more versatile than American ones!  I told Padre Henry later that he has more concentration that I do.

The other wedding was the next day at the Saturday Mass.  The couple were obviously well known and loved in the community, and I was warmly welcomed by them and the people.  It is one of the best weddings I have ever been to, and a true communal celebration.  It was also more chaotic and human than my weddings here.

People in our sister parish know St. Thomas Aquinas, from visits by our people and notes sent down.  In one church, that one of our groups helped to build, someone commented to me that "the sweat of STA is in our foundation."  And the kids still use the toothbrushes that our young people sent them.

At one Mass, someone who was obviously drunk and very dirty wandered around the church with a roll of toilet paper in his hand.  More than a bit distracting, I thought Padre Efrain might ask him to leave, or one of the parishioners.  No one did.  The thought seemed to be that he is one of us too, perhaps a different mentality than here.

One of the best evenings was a visit to a community of Franciscan sisters in Santa Rosa.  We laughed and talked and ate goodies.  Women and men from Honduras, Spain, America, Nicaragua, and India had a grand time, all of us passionate about making a bit of heaven come down to earth.  I told the sisters that they are the real heroes of the Church.  We priests just talk, and they actually are close to the people and do something.

I learned that poverty is not just material.  One agricultural worker I met said that the biggest obstacle is that so many rural people have no sense of dignity, as if they are less than human and so do not deserve anything better.

I saw suffering but no sadness.  After Mass, one man carried his 11 year old boy with Muscular Dystrophy to see me.  Physically the boy does not have an easy future, but he certainly knows that he is loved and valued by that community.

Visiting Fernando and Elsie one afternoon, we spoke of their parish.  They told me that no one who is rich comes to our parish, because when they becomes rich they either join the Evangelical church or don't go to church at all.  Fernando said, "Wealth makes people forget about God."  I realized how blessed I am to be in a parish where that is not true and where so many are great stewards of time, talent and treasure.

In some ways, our parishes could not be more different.  At Dulce Nombre, they produce much of their own food, they are not well educated, they have a great sense of family and community, and God for them is not an academic inquiry.  We can learn from each other.

The dormitory we helped to build is pretty basic but gets the job done.  If one is uneasy about super sanitary conditions, roosters crowing, dogs barking or geckos making whatever noise they make, this might be the place for you to visit.

When I asked parishioners what their greatest need is, I expected them to say something about a building project, or maybe education of the young.  Instead they are focused on evangelization, the core of their mission.  I don't hear this as much in the USA.

I am impressed by their great sense of ownership of their ministries, especially their Eucharistic ministers and catechists.  Their staff is two priests for 40,000 people in 40 different buildings.  Yet they have vibrant communities of real faith.

Their pastoral council meetings often are 3+ hours, and people walk for several hours to go to these, to Mass and to school.

I learned that side altars are now used as a place to stack cowboy hats.

Masses and even weddings do not start on time.  One wedding was over one hour late, and no one cared.  As an old quote goes, "Americans have watches, but we have time."  

It is a beautiful thing to belong to a universal Church, and for me to concelebrate Mass with Padre Efrain and Padre Henry.  And yes, for many years now they have responded "And with your spirit," so we are behind them in that regard!

Before I left, I told John Donaghy that I have known him for over 21 years, and have never seen him so happy.  He is so at home there, and everyone seems to know "Juancito."  He is considered a rock star by young and old alike.

I think we have so much to learn from our sisters and brothers in Dulce Nombre.  The trick is to figure out how to make it happen.  But I think now is the time to move beyond toothbrushes to something more.  Please join the Honduras committee to help us dream about this deepening relationship.

Finally, when down there I read a book called
No salvation outside the poor, by one of my former professors, Fr. Jon Sobrino S.J. from El Salvador.  In some ways, their salvation depends upon us.  In more ways, our salvation depends upon them.

That's what Fr. Jon learned here. It was great to have him here to deepen the ties between the two parishes and as a personal support.

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