Thursday, May 03, 2012

Day of the Cross and Honduran suffering

Today we celebrate the feast of the finding of the Cross - here in Honduras, as well in El Salvador and other Latin American countries. It used to be a feast on the Catholic liturgical calendar for the whole world but was suppressed since there is also the feast of the Holy Cross on September 14.

But here the feast is celebrated – and rightly so.

The Cross is for followers of Christ a sign of our salvation. But it is more. It is the sign of a God who does not look on suffering from afar, but shares in our sufferings.

In countries like Honduras this is a message that needs to be heard. Not only is Honduras the second poorest country in Latin America, but it is also perceived to be have the highest percentage of violent deaths per population in the world.

Lots of people are troubled by the high rate of violent deaths here, but we should be troubled at the slow death that many experience due to the massive poverty here.

And this poverty is preventable. But it will be costly since the structures here do not allow people to develop their capacities to live full human lives.

Education is one example. Schools are poorly equipped and education is only mandatory until sixth grade. After that, it is very difficult to get an education, especially if you live in the countryside. For example, in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María in four municipalities there are only five schools that offer classes for seventh through ninth grade, and there is only one high school.

If young people in the countryside want to study past sixth grade they have to travel each day or go live in a town where they can get the classes they need. Some parents make the effort so that they children can get an education, sending their children to live in towns like Santa Rosa where they either stay with relatives or find a boarding house. The young people may take day classes or night classes – and work during the day. Some may take weekend classes and so only have to stay one night in town.

That’s why programs like Maestro en Casa are so important in the parish of Dulce Nombre. Over 250 young people are taking classes by listening to the radio and studying work books during the week and coming into five centers in the parish to study on Saturday or Sunday. It’s one effort to make up for the deficiencies of the educational system here.

I could mention also questions of health and employment. But an issue that is critical these days is land. In northeast Honduras, in the Bajo Aguan region, there is much conflict over land. The causes are many, including a “Land Modernization” law in the 1990s that made it easier for large landholders to buy out the small landholders who had taken advantage of earlier land reform laws. Over 50 people have been killed in the Bajo Aguan region in the last few years. 

But land is a problem even here in southwest Honduras. I know many farmers who have to rent the land for their corn and bean crops. Some may have some land for coffee, a cash crop, but they have no land for the basics – corn and beans. Land is not cheap and many large landowners are reluctant to sell their land. And so I see large expanses of land used for cattle grazing while people lack land for subsistence crops.

This is another example of a structure of injustice.

Why write about his today, on the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross?

In a book of Latin American martyrs I read regularly, today is the anniversary of the killing of Pablo Luna in 1985 in El Cerrón, Santa Bárbara, Honduras. Pablo accompanied people who were being threatened by a large landowner.

Today is also the anniversary of the killing of Felipe Huete and four others were killed in El Astillero, Atlantida, where they were occupying land. I wrote about it last year and you can read more here.

The history of deaths of people seeking land to work is a sad history here in Honduras and Latin America.

I think of them today as I contemplate the suffering Lord on the Cross.

Christ, the crucified campesino

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