I‘ve had a busy weekend in the Dulce Nombre parish.
Except for a Wednesday visit in Plan Grande with the person who’ll be building my house, I had not been out in the parish since before my retreat. I’ve had some responsibilities with Caritas in Santa Rosa that kept me here and I also spent a day pricing stuff for the house.
I called Padre German Thursday night and asked him what was up and how I could be of service.
He asked me to lead a discussion on the Eucharist and Lent with the Communion ministers. He was going out to one community where, as he said, there were always lots of confessions. (He’s trying to get to every village during Lent for confessions and Mass.)
It was good to share with the communion ministers as well as to talk with them about Holy Thursday and Good Friday celebrations in the communities. We are going through a Lent here, a hard time, and so I spent some time with them naming the signs of death and reflecting on Christ’s presence with us in the death of death. The communion ministers mentioned the murders, alcoholism, political partisanship, divisions, poverty, hunger, and other examples of death.
I didn’t realize at the time how much this would be reflected in my experience this weekend.
In the afternoon I went to accompany Padre German at a village. In the last five months the village has experienced four killings. The first seems to have been related to a series of killings over the course of many years. The old man who had been killed had asked for an end to the violence and may have been killed because the person being sought wasn’t there. The second was a robbery – probably for pistols that a man from the community had begun buying. The last two happened at a wedding in a village over the mountain and may have been related to lots of alcohol at a secular wedding celebration. Such tragedy.
Padre German had asked if I really wanted to go there. I said “Yes,” since I’ve been there several times.
He was rather strong in his homily – castigating the community for the violence. He was particularly strong in condemning the presence of guns and pistols. I think he might have been a little too strong since the perpetrators were from outside the community. Several in the community told him so during the homily. But the violence is real.
I left with a heavy heart.
Interestingly, he waited for me to follow him back to Dulce Nombre. He may be more worried about the violence than I was.
This may be the moment to begin working on training people on transformation of conflicts and alternatives to violence. I need to talk with him about this.
Saturday I decided to go out to visit several of the Maestro en Casa alternative education sites.
I went to Quebraditas where they have a high school program. The director had mentioned to me their need of a computer for the program. Providentially, a friend asked me if there was a need that her confirmation class could raise funds for. A computer is something needed and something that is not too expensive – for students in the US.
I went to get some pictures that she could share with her class. I also talked with a number of the students. Many of them work during the week and this is their only opportunity to get middle school or high school education – neither of which is less than an hour away by bus. Even considering that, some of the students walk long distances – up to two hours – to get to the classes on Saturday and Sunday, unless they can find or hitch a ride.
It was encouraging to talk with them and to see their enthusiasm. One high school student told me how he had asked the program director to see if they could get computer classes next year.
On the way back to Santa Rosa, I stopped at El Zapote Santa Rosa to see about their program. It’s only three classes of what we’d call middle school, but there are probably more than 30 students, many of them with partial scholarships provided by St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames.
After talking with them a bit, I went to the nearby church where Padre German was hearing confessions. I stopped to speak with three young guys who were hanging out and who later went to Mass. Though I had urged them to go to confession, I don’t think any of them went.
I also talked with two other pastoral workers. José, who is a catechist, told me that he has about 53 drawings from the First Communion class that he wants to send to St. Thomas Aquinas. I was moved by his initiative in doing this. We’ve arranged for him to get the pictures to me and then I’ll send them on.
Padre finished confessions and so I went to Mass.
Sunday I agreed to accompany Padre for an afternoon Mass in San Agustín. There are 17 catechumens there and I’d hoped that they would have the rite of scrutinies at Mass, but they had already prayed them at the morning Celebration of the Word. I did, however, get a chance to see the meeting of twenty young people preparing for confirmation.
On the way back, there were a lot of people in the street as we passed through Caleras. Then, all of a sudden, all vehicles were stopped. Padre asked and we found out that someone had been murdered about half an hour ago and his body was there in the middle of the dirt road.
I approached with Padre and he spoke with the police who were there. Interesting the policeman didn’t ask him who he was and was, in fact, a bit rude. However, we found out that the fiscal, the public prosecutor, had been called and they were awaiting his or her arrival before they could move the body. But who knows how long it would be before the fiscal arrived – it’s the weekend and the fiscales are overworked.
The body of the man was in the middle of the dirt road, a puddle of blood by his neck.
The body was about 25 feet from where we were. This was the first time I had been close to the body of a person who had been murdered.
I mostly felt sad. Another life wasted. Another family devastated. More death.
Padre knew a way to get back to Dulce Nombre and as he drove we talked. He was concerned that I would be upset and fearful. Surprisingly, I was more sad than upset and I didn’t feel fearful.
He mentioned how he sometimes experiences fear – but then he drives back from villages at all hours of the night.
We talked more about the violence and the need to help restore respect for life. I also shared with him what I had read in The Locust Effect. Violence undercuts efforts at development. But it’s not merely random violence. The violence is related to the lack of a police that is fair, efficient, and professional. It is related to the overworked and under-equipped public prosecutors and a judicial system that just doesn’t work.
But, as Padre German noted, there are any number of police involved in the violence (as well as in crime). I now recall the recent beating by police of a priest in Tomalá, Lempira.
We got back to Dulce Nombre about 5:30 and I immediately left for Santa Rosa – with a very heavy heart.
As I drove back I listened to some music. All of a sudden a song came up that helps me reflect on my role here in the face of violence. John McCutcheon’s The Streets of Sarajevo, where McCutcheon sings of the cellist who came out and played his cello in a place of death in Sarajevo.
Why am I here? To accompany the people, to be a witness of hope in the places of death and suffering, or as John McCutcheon sings:
“in defiance and to add a bit of grace,
to try to ease the awful hatred and the horror of this place.
to remember there is beauty no matter what they say…”
I don’t have answers – but I want to be presence, as my Lord is present to the suffering.
I have a great peace in this.
The other day, someone jokingly asked me if I had my body guard in the back seat. I rolled down the window so that he could see there was no one there.
And, I don’t know why, but I said that I had God as my bodyguard.