Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Culture of Encounter: Six Days in the Life of John Donaghy

Gary Guthrie, who visited me recently with his wife, Nancy, asked if I would accept a guest entry. I think it's always food to hear another voice, especially when he describes how they shared my life for six days. 

Me - with Gary and Nancy
Below is a slightly edited entry from Gary. All of the photos below are his.


Pope Francis calls the church to a “culture of encounter”, a poor church of the poor. One way to look at poverty of spirit is recognizing that all life is gift; all good things come from God. We ought not be entitled to anything. When we encounter “another,” it is always with the possibility that the incarnated Christ in that person calls each of us to an ever-deeper ongoing conversion.

Twenty-eight years ago this July 17th John was our first overnight guest from outside El Salvador in San Jose Guayabal, El Salvador. Nancy and I were there with the Mennonite Central Committee administering fertilizer loans to farmers, displaced due to the Salvadoran Civil War. John came to walk with us, to accompany us for a short while to learn from our Salvadoran friends and their faith.

This past June 8th Nancy and I had the opportunity to return the favor, as we were John’s first overnight guests in his new house from outside Honduras.

Many people ask John,  “What is a typical day like for you?” Perhaps it is best said there is no “typical” day; so I would like to briefly describe our 6 days with John.

Monday (hospitality): John picks us up at the San Pedro Sula airport at noon. It is hot and very humid along the coast, but we begin the four hour drive up into the mountains. Each stop along the way it gets cooler and less humid. We arrive in Plan Grande and John’s two story home is nestled tightly behind the village church and next to the old adobe chapel. 

There is no town center around which everyone lives. This is all fairly steep mountainous terrain; so many people live along the mountain ridge. The elementary school is located right next to the church and beside John’s home.

John’s home has two bedrooms downstairs with a nice open kitchen and living room, as well as a bathroom along with a wash station. You climb upstairs to a covered patio, John’s bedroom and a chapel/prayer room. There is a large open patio to dry clothes and ¡oh! what a view of the countryside!

 Tuesday (evangelization): We just spent time talking and getting caught up with our lives. As most of you know John does a lot of writing on his blogs; so he is working on that as well as preparation for a workshop that will take place on Friday morning with parish leaders from one of four zones in the Dulce Nombre de Maria Parish.

Much of what John does in the parish is write or rewrite catechetical material for parish leaders as it relates to the sacraments, faith life and social action. This is one of his greatest gifts to the parish.

The parish has a small plot of land in Plan Grande recently planted to coffee to raise funds for the parish’s ministries. We walked down the road a couple hundred meters to look at it. One can view it from John’s 2nd floor.

Wednesday (beauty): John has some flowerbeds that needed soil at the base of his home. Two young men came and gathered 12 large sacks of soil mixed with cow manure, then 24 more sacks of soil taken from two sites that we brought in and dumped from John’s pick-up. Someday when we return it will be full of beautiful perennial flower plants. Since I farm organic vegetables in Iowa, John thought this would be an appropriate activity for me to be a part of.

Thursday (economic justice): Thursday morning we took off to pick-up 1000+ pounds of coffee which we took, along with the farmers, to an coffee agency that ships coffee to a variety of locations around the world. This is a pilot project to possibly bring coffee from the Dulce Nombre area to the Ames area to sell. I was impressed that such a large facility was willing to handle such a small amount but they were. They take samples out of the bag to test for moisture, weight and quality. There is a steep learning curve for all involved. Hopefully soon it won’t be just Dulce Nombre [Sweet Name] but Sweet Flavor too! as we sip some Honduran coffee at home. This is not a main focus for John but he is trying to facilitate the process. If all goes well the farmers will try to export more quantity in future years as they get a much better price then selling it on the open coffee market.

Friday: We traveled into Dulce Nombre (about 25 minutes) for a workshop that John was giving to about 20 community leaders. There are about 50 different communities in the parish and they are divided into 4 zones. It is an opportunity for leadership development and a way to know how it is going in their communities. One of the main activities in the workshop was a scriptural reflection on the passage where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. They used a form of Ignatian imagination, placing yourself in the scripture and then describing to others what you heard, experienced. Instead of just reading the story you “encounter” Jesus in the story and allow his Spirit to touch you. It is very much a part of what Pope Francis wants for all of us when he talks about becoming a “Culture of Encounter”. When we encounter the incarnated Jesus in others, it so often leads to conversion.

John is trying to model something different for parish leaders and they are to share in similar ways with others in their communities during their Sunday Liturgies of the Word.

After eating lunch with Padre German, we all took off to a community whose feast day was the Sacred Heart of Jesus. After over an hour long drive, we finally arrived and the small chapel was packed with folks. Young men outside the chapel would light off bottle rockets every now and then. There was to be around 22 baptisms that day ranging from a couple of newborn babies to 12-14 year olds. It was organized chaos with John helping with giving the baptized their candles after Padre German anointed them with chrism. It was many moments of great joy and celebration as the entire community celebrated and then shared a light meal after the service.

The next day was going to be a long day for the Padre. It was the feast day of Anthony of Padua, a popular saint; so he had 5 masses on Saturday and another 5 on Sunday!

Saturday (full-circle): On Saturday, John drove us the five to six hour drive to Suchitoto, El Salvador, where we have a mutual friend that we wanted to see. It brought us full circle as it was in this area that our relationship with John began.

What is it that keeps drawing us back and keeps John there? I believe it is in part because in the lives of the rural poor the Gospel comes alive; the Gospel is simpler because the people know intimately they are dependent upon God. We in the north seldom know this in our hearts. Fathers Richard Rohr and Ronald Rolheiser both talk about that in our second half of life we are to “give our lives away”. This is simply what John is doing. He is serving, losing his life and gaining so much life in return.

Any of you that can, go visit John. Take a retreat of “Encounter” and prepare yourself for conversion! Today as I write, it is the Feast of St. John the Baptist. Much like the first John, John’s living witness calls us to a deeper relationship with God and to serve others, wherever we find ourselves.

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