Thursday, June 04, 2015

How our parish is structured

I don’t think I’ve ever taken time to detail how our parish, the parish of Dulce Nombre de María in Dulce Nombre de Copán, Honduras, works. Here’s an attempt to explain something that is somewhat amorphous and that keeps changing.

Needless to say, this will be a long post.

Parishes here in western Honduras are quite different from many US parishes.

The parish I accompany, Dulce Nombre de María, has one priest to cover four municipalities which include about 48 scattered towns and villages. Some of them are more than 90 minutes from the main town where the priest lives, Dulce Nombre de Copán, over dirt roads which are dusty in the dry season and can become mud holes in the long rainy season.

Because of this there are several structures in place that try to encourage the life of faith in the villages, even when a priest cannot come.

In a few posts, I will try to explain how our parish is structured. I will try to present both the ideal and the reality, since there are some serious deficiencies.


In the mid-1960s, the bishop of Choluteca started the training of “delegates of the Word.” These men were trained to lead Sunday celebrations of the Word in their scattered villages when a priest could not come. At first, it was restricted to men, but later women were welcomed and trained as delegates of the Word.

This structure of delegates of the Word can be found throughout Honduras and there is even a national office that provides some materials.

This enables the communities to meet together and pray, using the lectionary readings. It is not a real substitute for the Eucharist, but it at least helps form communities of faith.

There is one problem, though, that I perceive. Some of the delegates become caciques, leaders that control the local church. They can become very clericalized and authoritarian.

This problem can be addressed by continuing training of the delegates. Yet some say that they received their training and don’t see a need for more.

Another problem is that the role of the delegates doesn’t seem to have been integrated well into the overall structure of the parish. This has become problematic with the introduction of base communities in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán in the 1980s.


At the base of the structure of the parish are the base communities. But the ideal structure of these communities, as well as the various levels of councils, is based in the understanding of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. And so the diocese speaks about the “triple ministry” – prophetic, liturgical, and social.

This understanding is rooted in the baptismal rite, specifically in the prayer when the baptized are anointed with Chrism.
The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin,
given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit,
and welcomed you into his holy people.
He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation.
As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King,
so may you live always as a member of his body,
sharing everlasting life.
All Christians are called to live this triple ministry, since they are baptized into Christ.


The base communities usually meet weekly in a member’s house. In theory they pray, reflect, celebrate, and look after the needs of each other and the community. They are usually organized by neighborhoods and so there may be more than one base community in a village. I’ve calculated that there are about 140 base communities – some of them solely on paper – in the 48 towns and villages in the parish.

Each community should have a general coordinator, as well as a coordinator in each of the three ministries. There should also be a treasurer, a secretary, and a catechist.

This has been a bit difficult for a number of reasons.

One is that in some cases the Delegates of the Word had assumed power in the community and some communities would not meet if the delegate wasn’t present. This problem has been addressed and is not the situation in most communities.

Another problem is that there has not been sufficient understanding of the three ministries or what role the coordinators should be taking. We are trying to remedy this by workshops with base community leaders this year.

In addition, there has been a dearth of good material for the base communities, material adapted to the lives and culture of the people here and material that promotes participation and adult learning styles.

I was somewhat shocked a few years ago when a priest suggested using the document of the 2007 Latin American bishops’ conference in Aparecida, Brazil, as the document for the base communities.

As a result, some base community meetings have become more like Celebrations of the Word, with people using the lectionary readings and a delegate talking about the readings and maybe letting others give their opinions.

We have been trying to encourage another scheme for the base communities. The first week, the community would treat a theme from a booklet we had prepared. The second week the communities would celebrate their lives together, remembering birthdays and wedding anniversaries as well as other special occasions for community members. the fourth week, we’ve been encouraging use of the imaginative approach to reading the Gospels, sometimes called Ignatian contemplation. The final week, the communities are encouraged to look at their village to see where there are needs and to find ways to actively respond to them.

A number of base communities are doing this.

It’s a long process, especially when we are dealing with some long held ideas of how the church functions.


The parish of Dulce Nombre de María is large, with 48 scattered villages and towns.  In order to facilitate communication, the parish is divided into eleven sectors and four zones.

There are councils at four levels in the parish – the village, the sector (11), the zone (4), and the parish.

Each village and town has a church community council, which should include seven representatives of each base community. To facilitate the church ministry in the village, each community should have a general coordinator, a secretary, a treasurer, a catechist, a coordinator of the liturgical ministry, a coordinator of the prophetic ministry, and a coordinator of the social ministry.

Each village chooses one from each of these seven areas who represent the village at the monthly sector meetings.

The council of the sector chooses seven to represent the sector at the monthly meeting of the zone.

Each zone chooses seven to send to the parish pastoral council meeting once a month.


In order to facilitate the formation of the lay members of the parish, there are regular training sessions.

The catechists meet three or four times a year for a four to five hour training session.

We also have had training sessions this year for coordinators of base communities and for the liturgical ministry of the villages.  We also plan to have meetings for the Delegates of the Word.

There are other efforts at formation that we are continually trying.


Jim Cain said...

Liv, Laura & I read your post after our prayer tonight. We were in awe of the size of a parish. A couple of questions: 1. What's the range in population among the villages & cities of the parish? 2. What's the size of a base community? You remain in our prayers.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

Jim, Laura, and Liv, great to hear that you are reading about us.

Some of the villages are small - maybe twenty households. A few are very large with more than 1000 people. So there is quite a range in population. My guess is that a good number are more like 70 to 100 households - which means about 600 or so people in a village.

There are four municipal centers - three of which are fairly large: 3000, 1800, 1400. One is small - only 630 people. My guess is that there are between 27,00 and 40,000 people in the whole parish.

The base communities vary in size - most between 15 and 30 people - which does include some kids in the meetings. In some communities they were very large but with some new policies in the parish they are getting smaller.

We are in a transitional period and so need your prayers. Thanks.