Thursday I accompanied Padre German to two villages in the Dulce Nombre parish. It’s a chance to get out to places I don’t often get to as well as a chance to talk with him in the truck as we drive out.
Padre German is trying to visit every one of the 46 towns and villages at least once every two months. He often spends time with the community council.
In the morning we went to the village of Descombros, outside San Agustin. When he arrived he first heard confessions for about an hour. Then the Mass began with 30 baptisms of children under seven.
A choir came from San Agustin and sang with a lot of enthusiasm even though they slaughtered some of the music, substituting “new” tunes for several of the hymns.
The parents and godparents were very enthusiastic when they responded to the questions of the baptismal ritual - they are renouncing Satan in the above photo.
Some of the little kids resisted when they were baptized. I wondered if the waters of baptism were really exorcising some loud evil spirits.
During the Mass Padre German made a remark that struck me as extremely important: we are all equal, in the Body of Christ. There is no one better than another. That call for radical equality is refreshing and what, I think, the people here need to hear.
After Mass, we had a quick lunch and then headed to the other town. For several reasons I will not name the town.
We were going for the end of the novena- nine days of prayer for someone who had died.
A good sized crowd from the village and several others nearby nearly filled the new large church in the village.
The man had been killed with two shots. His family and another local family had been at odds for years. Also, probably years ago, one of his sons had killed someone from the other family. And, for some reason, he was now shot and killed.
Interfamily rivalries as well as crimes that are not brought to justice are responsible, I believe, for a good part of the violence in the countryside.
But, why now, especially since the man killed was over eighty years old?
Padre German gave a pointed homily on the texts he had chosen for the Mass – the Genesis story of Cain and Abel and the account of Jesus death.
I was moved by his words and took some notes. Here are a few of his remarks. (I have combined some of them that seemed related).
- No one has the right to take another’s life. For it is taking the place of God.
- We need to end the circle (spiral?) of violence.
- All who kill ask, like Cain, “Am I, by chance, my brother’s
- To break the cycle of violence we need to contemplate life,
and care of the life of our neighbors and our enemies.
- There will never exist a person like Abel, like the person
who was killed. They are unique. Each
person’s life is irreplaceable. Even the worst person is important. For God
wants the sinner to live.
- He said that when one takes the life of another, the life of
that person is “depreciado” –
belittled, scorned, despised, looked down upon. But every life has value.
- Avoid the desire for vengeance; one has to forgive.
- Sin has power. But, recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, life is stronger than death.
He said more that I missed – since I almost fell asleep from exhaustion. But the message of love, forgiveness, and letting go of the desire for vengeance was clear. But also clear was his insistence of the value of every person – even our enemies. In a society that despises the poor, hearing this message is extremely important.
During the prayer of the faithful, Padre German prayer for the justice system of Honduras, which he called “collapsed” and he prayed for justice.
He realizes that violence experienced in the villages is not merely related to vengeance and inter-family rivalries. It is related to the lack of a justice system that responds to crimes.
How many crimes are never investigated? How many of those who kill ever proceed to court? How many are jailed with insufficient evidence? The system allows injustice and violence to flourish and, I believe, even contributes to it by its failure to function.
The Mass was somewhat subdued, but I found that Padre German’s words provided a beacon of hope.
One person I know who was a niece and godchild of the man who was killed remarked on his words.
I told her that he said what we need to hear.
He did what the Church should be doing - saying a prophetic word of hope as we accompany those who are suffering and mourning.
In some ways I think what he was doing can be summed up in the first sentence of the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World - Gaudium et Spes:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.
More photos of the baptisms in Descombros can be found here.