Saturday, May 05, 2012

Accompanying Caritas workshops

Friday, the Participation Project of Caritas had a workshop for people from various parts of the diocese to help them learn how to prepare projects to seek funding. It was largely concentrated on seeking funding for church buildings – either repair of churches or construction of church centers for training sessions and retreats. It was not very well-attended. I am not sure why.

I have been preparing a list of groups, largely Catholic, that do funding in places like Honduras. I passed it on to the organizer of the event who edited it and passed it on to the people. He also asked me to speak a bit about the list.

I was originally supposed to do the presentation in the afternoon but I ended up being the first presenter. So I began to ask a few questions.

In the process I helped them articulate the need for the projects to arise from the people, from the communities. Yes, help may be needed from without but there are lots of resources that the communities have.

One person was from the parish in Sula, Santa Bárbara, that built a center for training sessions and retreats out of adobe. Monseñor Santos, our previous bishop, had told me about it and marveled that they did it by themselves – out of adobe. I don’t know if they had any outside financing but what encouraged me is the initiative of this parish to use local materials – adobe.

I also reminded them to seek local support – from municipal governments for projects like water, roads, and agricultural development, from local non-governmental organizations where they exist – like a group in Intibucá which helps in water projects.

Later two people talked about how to develop project statements – one almost exclusively on construction projects, the other on what one specific German church agency requires for proposals.

I was a little disappointed – for the low turnout and for the limitations of the presentations.

I left before the session was over since I had some things I had to do before Saturday morning’s trip to San Marcos Ocotepeque.

Church of San Marcos Ocotepeque

I left Santa Rosa about 7:15 to get to San Marcos. It took about 90 minutes – much of it over the international highway which is full of potholes and patches where there is no asphalt. At one point where the highway was just dirt, I was stopped by a string across the road. A few kids were asking money since they were filling in the potholes. The government does virtually nothing and so some people have taken the initiative and patch the holes with dirt. Of course, it’s only a temporary measure, but it helps a little.

San Marcos Ocotepeque is in a valley, but it is in the heart of a major coffee region. The parish council was meeting and Lyly, a Caritas worker, was doing a presentation to the parish council to help them understand what the booklet on Catholic Social Teaching for base communities  was. We had earlier this week worked on an agenda, but she had encouraged me to come.

We waited until after the parish council had done most of its business. The room was full – about 40 people from all over the parish. Lyly explained things well and the people were attentive and participated in the discussions. I added a few things to help people deepen what Lyly had said.

At one point Lyly asked about the roots of Catholic Social Thought. The people mentioned church documents and the Bible.  At this point I intervened because for me the restriction of Catholic Social Thought to the bible and to documents misses the lived experience of the church.

I usually say that the sources of Catholic Social Thought are scripture, the teachings of the early church fathers and the doctors of the church, the documents from the pope, the Vatican, the bishops, and groups like the Latin American bishops conference. But I think it’s essential to add the lived experience of the church – starting from the stories in the Acts of the Apostles, the lives and works of the early church. the lives and teachings of witnesses to God’s love and justice throughout the ages. I mentioned the witness of Mother Teresa and Archbishop Romero, whom they knew.

Padre Beto's burial place in the church.

But I added Padre Beto as a witness. They may have been surprised that I knew a bit about him. Padre Beto, Father Earl Gallagher OFM Cap, was a Capuchin priest from Brooklyn, NY,  who worked 23 years in the southern parts of the diocese, in the departments of Lempira and Ocotepeque. He is buried in the church in San Marcos where he was pastor for several years.  The people called him Beto, a nickname based on his baptismal name “Robert.”

I first heard about him a few years ago. People from Ocotepeque and southern Lempira kept remarking that I looked like him. He was bald and had a white beard – though, I hear, he was taller than me.

I soon began to hear other stories: how he loved to swim with the kids in waterholes in southern Lempira, how he loved to joke with the people, and how he stood up for the people in the 1980s when the repression was severe. He was twice beaten by Honduran soldiers. For his commitment to the cause of the poor campesinos, the people loved him dearly.

But the story that hit me is what happened on a river on the Salvadoran border in the early 1980s. People were fleeing form the war and the advance of the Salvadoran government troops – mostly women, children, and the elderly. The Salvadoran army was in pursuit. As they tried to cross the river to Honduras, the Salvadoran army continued its pursuit and shooting at the refugees. The Honduran army also proceeded to fire at the fleeing women, children, and elderly.

About fifty people were killed or drowned. But Padre Beto was there swimming to rescue the children and others in the river. Among other efforts, he swam underwater with kids on his back.

I believe another person, a US volunteer, also helped carry many of the children to safety. Yvonne Dilling wrote about this and her other experiences with Salvadoran refugees in Honduras in her book In Search of Refuge. (I read the book long ago and so I'm a little unsure of the details - especially since there were two massacres on rivers between Honduras and El Salvador. In the other massacre about 500 were killed.)

Padre Beto died as the result of an accident while visiting the US in 1999, but his body was returned and buried in the church he had pastored.

Padre Beto - a photo in the church office

I was glad I could use his example, known to most of the people present. It might help bring the liberating message of Catholic Social Thought alive for these people who can see that the Gospel of God’s liberating love is alive and they have seen it happening in their midst.

Sunday, I am off to the Caritas center in Siguatepeque – about four hours from Santa Rosa in car. It’s a follow-up of the workshops on the Transformation of Conflicts which Caritas Honduras sponsored about two years ago. Caritas Colombia staff led the workshops using the materials developed by John Paul Lederach, a US Mennonite who has worked in many parts of the world and teaches at Eastern Mennonite University and the University of Notre Dame.

It will be good to have some time away – and also to do some reflecting on how to promote transformational processes to deal with the violence around us here.

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