Sunday, March 27, 2016

Where to look for the living God?

Last night I joined the parish community in Dulce Nombre for the Easter Vigil.

In his homily Padre German noted the question in the Gospel of the two young men at the tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That question is guiding my reflection this morning.

Since I was involved in various aspects of the liturgy I found myself distracted – making sure that the readers were ready and that things went smoothly, providing the right places in the books for Padre German and the various readers. As we began the service I also found myself on the verge of responding all too brusquely to all the questions that were coming at me with a zillion questions and requests. 

There were a few glitches – for example, when two readers didn’t show up at the last minute (though they had been in the service earlier.) I’m learning to roll with the punches – I read one scripture reading and I asked one of the sisters to read the other.

There were 23 baptisms and two who were formally accepted into the church. 

One of the joys was seeing Adonay whom I had first met when I visited San Juan in November 2007. He was a curious first grader who picked up my Liturgia de las Horas  and started reading it. Last night he was baptized. 

I had asked two catechists to recommend two of the baptized to read the Prayers of the Faithful. Adonay was one of them. I was pleasantly surprised that both he and the other young woman read the petitions with great gusto.

The vigil began about 7 pm at the football field on the road to Concepción with the Easter bonfire! Padre German had asked me to do a short introduction, in which I recalled that the women and apostles experienced Holy Saturday as a day of darkness. We too an our world experience darkness – death, hunger, killings, insecurity, violence, and more. But the fire is a sign that Christ, our Light, illumines the darkness. But the mystery of the fire is that we can spread the light, being signs of the mystery that death is not the final word, that Christ has conquered death.

We then walked in procession to the church – about an hour walk. By the cemetery we stopped so that people could light their candles from the flames of the Easter Candle. 

In church, the readings, the baptisms, and the Eucharist didn’t seem to be long – though we didn’t end until 12:30 am.

People had come from various parts of the parish to celebrate. My guess is that most of the people in the church were not from the town of Dulce Nombre but had come in from the villages. Driving home I saw a pick up full of people (way over the legal limit of people in the bed of the truck!) What a willingness to come and celebrate.

Earlier Saturday I received a call from a leader in San Antonio El Alto who apologized that they would not get to the Easter Vigil. A young man in their community had died on Friday in a drowning accident and they had spent Friday night in vigil with the family. They had experienced the pain and desolation of Good Friday. I reassured them that they need not come the hour-long journey in car for the Vigil but that what they had done was important. I urged them to meet and listen to the Easter Vigil readings.

This morning, baking bread, I’m getting ready to go with Communion to Delicias Concepción for the morning Celebration of the Word. It will be good to be with these people on the side of a mountain, celebrating a living God.

After the celebration I am going to La Entrada for lunch with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters who are pretty much a family for me here.

The Lord is risen – and we can find him in the prayers and lives of God’s people – especially the poor.

We can find Him in the pain of a community that mourns the drowning of a young man but had come together to provide solace to the family.

We can find Him in the young men and women who made the commitment of their baptism.

We can find Him in the coming together for prayer and for Communion – letting the Bread of Life shine in their hearts.

We can find Him in the midst of the darkness – not denying it, but sharing with others the light we have received to help dispel the darkness.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A good Good Friday

A few weeks ago I had arranged to go to Debajiados for Good Friday. It’s one of the most remote villages and, if it has been raining, you can’t get in by car, even in four-wheel drive!

This morning about 7:15 I called Juan Ángel and asked him about the road and when they were going to begin the Stations. The road was fine and they had planned to start at 8:00. I had planned fro 9 or later. I almost panicked but he offered to put starting off until I arrived.

I arrived in 45 minutes – since the road was good and there was no traffic.

Entering the village I found Juan Ángel, his kids, and a woman preparing the stations. Later I found out that someone had broken up a few of the stations they had arranged earlier. (Someone said it was some local evangelicals.)

The stations started at about nine – with a nice crowd, including a surprising number of men and a lot of kids.

When we reached the church at the end of the stations at about 11, they decided to go straight into the celebration of the Passion.

The celebration was straight-forward, though I was moved by the veneration of the cross.

One thing I noted is how hard it is for most of the people in these aldeas [villages] to read. But then  I remember that many of these people have had little formal education. One rather articulate single twenty-three year old who read pretty well has only had two years of formal education. With so little, some do so much.

After a simple lunch I went with Juan angel to bring Communion to his parents who have been ill for several months and haven’t been able to get to church. No wonder. They live about 30 minutes from Debajiados by horse – up and down hills.

So the poor horse, named Payaso – the clown, carried Communion and me to the sick. 

I recognized Antonio, his father, who had been very active in the church in Debajiados. We talked, I shared prayer and Communion and then I left with Juan Ángel’s grandmother and some other relatives who were visiting. On the way out we found out that someone drowned in a nearby water hole. I ended up giving a number of folks a ride so that they could go to the village where the accident happened.

What is the meaning of this for me?

Today as I prepared for the Celebration of the Word I was struck by two passages which spoke to me of how God didn’t just suffer for us; in Jesus, God suffers with us.

In the letter to the Hebrews (3:16), the author characterizes Jesus as a high priest but 
“we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”
Isaiah 53:4 speaks of the suffering servant in these words:
it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured.

We do not have a God who is far from our sufferings, who does not share in them. We have a God who is with us in our suffering; that does not take away the pain but it may give us strength to struggle and hope.

Maybe this image I captured of a small cross on the road, amid the people's feet, sums it up well. Christ is here, looking at life from the ground up, seeing the worn and tired feet, but present - and vulnerable.

 In this way we are called to be a church that resembles Jesus, as Jon Sobrino writes:
To resemble Jesus is to reproduce the structure of his life. In gospel terms, the structure of Jesus’ life is a structure of incarnation, of becoming real flesh in real history. And Jesus’ life is structured in function of the fulfillment of a mission— the mission of proclaiming the good news of the Reign of God, inaugurating that Reign through all signs of every sort, and denouncing the fearsome reality of the anti-Reign. The structure of Jesus’ life meant taking on the sin of the world, and not just standing idly by looking at it from the outside. It meant taking on a sin that, today, surely, continues to manifest its greatest power in the fact that it puts millions of human beings to death. Finally, the structure of Jesus’ life meant rising again and raising again— having, and bestowing on others, life, hope, and gladness.

The quote from Sobrino is found in his essay “The Samaritan Church and the Principle of Mercy,”
found in Christine M. Bochen, ed., The Way of Mercy. Orbis Books, pp. 60-61.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dulce Nombre parish stations 2016

Again this year, on the Friday before Holy Week – which used to be the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows – the Dulce Nombre de María parish celebrated the Vía Crucis , the Way of the Cross, in the streets of Dulce Nombre de Copán.

In February the Parish Pastoral Council had chosen a number of themes for the stations, naming places where we need God’s mercy.

Padre German asked me to write the stations. I included a quote from Pope Francis for every station, related to the theme of the station and the concern that we recalled.
First Station
We started at the edge of town, several hundred people. El Nazareno, Jesus carrying the Cross, and a statue of the sorrowful mother were carried in the procession which went for almost three hours.

Procession with the images of El Nazareno and the Sorrowful Mother

At each station on the way to the church there was a decorated altar. Most sectors had also prepared a cross with the theme. We had a scripture reading, a reflection, prayers, and a quote from Pope Francis

Here are the stations and the themes – some accompanied by photos and with some commentary.

1. Jesus is condemned to death: impunity

2. Jesus takes up his Cross: the imprisoned
We listened to Pope Francis's remarks to the prisoners in Ciudad Juárez:
  • Jesus’ concern for the care of the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless and prisoners … sought to express the core of the Father’s mercy. This becomes a moral imperative for the whole of society that wishes to maintain the necessary conditions for a better common life. It is within a society’s capacity to include the poor, infirm and imprisoned, that we see its ability to heal their wounds and make them builders of a good life together.
3. Jesus falls the first time: vices and drug-trafficking
An older man carried the cross of this station throughout the way of the cross - walking barefoot all the way.

4. Jesus meets his mother: challenges of families

5. Simon of Simon helps Jesus carry the Cross: the elderly and sick.

We listened to the words of Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel, #76:
  • The pain and the shame we feel at the sins of some members of the Church, and at our own, must never make us forget how many Christians are giving their lives in love. They help so many people to be healed or to die in peace in makeshift hospitals. They are present to those enslaved by different addictions in the poorest places on earth. They devote themselves to the education of children and young people. They take care of the elderly who have been forgotten by everyone else. They look for ways to communicate values in hostile environments. They are dedicated in many other ways to showing an immense love for humanity inspired by the God who became human.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus: children
The sector had prepared a moving image of a child best by problems: malnutrition, lack of housing, discrimination, extreme poverty, lack of medicine, abandoned children.

7. Jesus falls the second time: youth
The altar for this station was designed by a kindergarten. The teachers and the children had arranged an altar and prepared a drawing. Note the Winnie-the-Pooh pillow in front of the picture of Christ.

8. Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem: domestic violence and violence against women
Women had prepared this altar where we remembered domestic violence and the large number of killings of women in Honduras.
We read these remarks from Pope Francis, in The Joy of the Gospel, #212:
  • Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights. Even so, we constantly witness among them impressive examples of daily heroism in defending and protecting their vulnerable families.
9. Jesus falls the third time: lack of work, poor wages, exploitation of workers

10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes: lack of care for creation

11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross: migrants.

12. Jesus dies on the Cross: murders
At this station, as we have in the past, we prayed for all those murdered in the parish during the past year. We asked people to come forward to mention the names after each of which we prayed, "Jesus Christ, have mercy on us." I was overwhelmed by the number of names of persons killed. 
13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross: injustice

14. Jesus is laid in the tomb
We read part of the remarks of Pope Francis at the end of the Stations of the Cross at World Youth Day in Brazil:
  • But the Cross of Christ invites us also to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love, teaching us always to look upon others with mercy and tenderness, especially those who suffer, who are in need of help, who need a word or a concrete action which requires us to step outside ourselves to meet them and to extend a hand to them. How many people were with Jesus on the way to Calvary: Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Mary, the women… Sometimes we can be like Pilate, who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life, and instead washed his hands. Dear friends, the Cross of Christ teaches us to be like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood; it teaches us to be like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness. And you? Who are you like? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary? 
  • Dear friends, let us bring to Christ’s Cross our joys, our sufferings and our failures. There we will find a Heart that is open to us and understands us, forgives us, loves us, and calls us to bear this love in our lives, to love each person, each brother and sister, with the same love. Amen! 

The Stations were followed by Mass in a full church.

The Stations were made available for the people to use in their communities on Good Friday morning.


The text of the Stations in Spanish can be found here.
More photos can be found in this set of photos on Flickr.

Mercy: principle and works

Last week the clergy of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán had a retreat with the theme of mercy, preach by Father Antonio Rivero, LC. There was a lot of information and I felt overwhelmed by the torrent of words on mercy. Thanks be to God I had the chance one night to visit the sick.

At the instigation of Padre German Navarro, whom I work with, I began reading Jon Sobrino’s El Principio – Misericordia, which I had read in English in 1994.

It is slow reading but I also came across an essay of Jon Sobrino, SJ, (in Christine Bochen’s  The Way of Mercy, p..65-66 )where he notes:
Mercy is a basic attitude toward the suffering of another, whereby one reacts to eradicate that suffering for the sole reason that it exists, and in the conviction that, in this reaction to the ought-not-be of another’s suffering, one’s own being, without any possibility of subterfuge, hangs in the balance. 

But mercy is more than the works of mercy. Note again the words of Jon Sobrino (p, 74): 
When mercy is taken seriously as the first and the last, it becomes conflictive. No one is thrown in prison or persecuted simply for having practiced works of mercy. Not even Jesus would have been persecuted and put to death, had his mercy been mere mercy— without being mercy as the first and the last. But when mercy becomes the first and the last, then it subverts society’s ultimate values, and society reacts.
I think of this as I recall the death of two indigenous activists this month in Intibucá - Berta Cáceres and Nelson García. 

But the past few days I have had two occasions to practice the corporal works of mercy.

When I got back from the retreat on Friday, I was approached by the mayor of Concepción to see if I could house the leaders of the medical brigade which was seeing people in our municipality, Concepción.

The two leaders stayed with me. I helped translate on Saturday and Monday when the brigade was in the nearby Candelaria clinic.

The lines early on Monday at the Candelaria clinic
This was an amazing experience – hearing the people explain their ills and watching the doctors respond carefully and respectfully to their needs. I noted a deep concern for the doctors for several seriously ill persons. But mostly I heard a lot of concern for gastritis and blood-pressure (low and high) and saw a number of people being nebulized for asthma. The brigade examined more than 200 in Quebraditas on Friday, more than 300 in Candelaria on Friday, and probably between 400 and 500 on Monday. (I had to leave before they were finished.)

I also was called on to speak with a man who was in deep anguish – or was it trauma? A son had been brutally murdered a few months ago and he is still grieving. We talked for a while and I promised to visit him during Holy Week.

On Monday, after translating for most of the day, I headed to Gracias where I assisted Sister Pat Farrell in working with several persons in the Gracias jail to prepare for a May workshop on Alternatives to Violence. These people had participated in two previous training sessions; we are helping them prepare to be co-leaders of future workshops in prison.

What impressed me this time was the sense of initiative of the two men in prison as well as the sharing of one of them on his former life. I feel blessed to have been a part of this process.

I returned to Plan Grande on Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday I spent almost the whole day preparing the parish Stations of the Cross which we celebrated on Friday. I had to finish them so that I could get photocopies in Santa Rosa on Thursday.

And so I have been blessed with the chance to shelter the two leaders of the medical brigade, visit the sick and listen to the sick visiting the doctors, comfort the afflicted, and more.

But more than anything else I feel myself sheltered in mercy – by all the people who surround me and help me try to be merciful.