Thursday, October 30, 2014

Update to the St. Thomas Aquinas parish

I'm in Ames, Iowa for twelve days to connect with the parish and friends, sharing a bit of what the parish of Dulce Nombre de María is doing and a bit of my developing ministry. I'll have about two minutes at the end of each Mass this coming weekend, but here is a more detailed report of what is going on.

First of all, I bring you greetings and thanks for your solidarity from the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. Padre German is extremely grateful and continually reminds the people of the generosity of St. Thomas, our sister parish.

Our parish in Honduras is a struggling parish, as all parishes should be.

The parish embraces 50 towns, villages, and hamlets where Padre German celebrates Mass at least once every two months – often traveling long distances in the parish truck.

In almost every town and village, there are catechists and delegates, those who lead Sunday celebrations of the Word. There are 16 Communion ministers who bring the Eucharist to several communities each week.

The work of  the catechists is long but with results. Since August 2013 there have been more than 2200 baptisms. This year the bishop came out and confirmed more than 500.

There are also base communities in almost every village where people meet every week. One of our challenges is to make these communities more participative.

But there are other challenges. Honduras is the second poorest country in this hemisphere. Our parish is one of the poorest in our diocese. Honduras also lacks an adequate police and judicial system.

There have been major challenges this year. A fungus affected many small coffee farmers who cut down the infected plants and planted a different variety. But they have to wait at least three years for a decent harvest.

A drought has severely affected this years bean crop – and beans are a staple of the Honduran diet.

Recently torrential rains affected several villages in the parish, leaving people  without decent housing.

But in the face of this we continue.

The people evangelize others. In October, many villages had teams of people visiting all the houses to invite people to participate in the life of the church.

The parish received the gift of one manzana (about 1.68 acres) of recently planted coffee. Through a gift from St. Thomas the parish was able to purchase a second manzana next to the donation. Parish volunteers go out about once a month to weed and fertilize the plants. Within two or three years, the coffee harvest from these two manzanas will help make the parish somewhat sustainable. Thanks to St. Thomas.

The alternative education program, Maestro en Casa, offers young people the chance of a middle school education. St. Thomas partial scholarships enable more than 150 to participate in this program and study until the 9th grade. This is important since there are only four regular middle schools and one high school in the confines of the parish.

There are other projects in process.

The parish plans to form base communities of young people (an alternative to youth groups) so that we can help them grow in their faith and continue the faith formation that they received preparing for confirmation.

The parish will continue to train catechists four times a year. We are trying to help these catechists develop programs that help the children and youth grow in faith and also encourage their imaginations.

The parish will also be training new Communion Ministers and will continue formation programs with base communities and with delegates of the Word.

A group in one of the villages is forming a coffee cooperative. Their hope – and mine – is to develop a way for them to directly market coffee to the US, thus getting a better price and avoiding middlemen. They are organized; what is needed is organization from the US side.

A young woman dentist is beginning to work on setting up a small clinic for the parish in the parish to supplement the work of the public health system. This is still a work in the dream and planning stage, but offers another way to directly assist the lives of the people in the parish.

By the end of this year, I hope to be living in a village in the parish to better enable me to work with the people. In this way I will cut my travel costs and have easier access to even the remotest villages of the parish. For this I have built, with my retirement funds, a house which will belong to the church but which I will use to live and also as a place to receive some visitors. This will be a place for some church workers I know to come for a day or more of rest and retreat.

I want to thank the parish for its support of the Dulce Nombre parish and to ask you to continue to be in solidarity with us – in your prayers and in other ways to support our ministries.

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