Monday, June 27, 2016

When it rains, it pours, cats and dogs

It’s not really raining cats and dogs, though it does rain fish in one part of northern Honduras. But these days torrential rains have finally arrived.

Some were fearing another severe drought after a week or so without any rain but with very high temperatures. But the rains are here.

There are different times and types of rain here in Honduras. There are the cold rains, often accompanied by days without sunshine, when mold grows like mad. These can last from October to early February.

But then there are the rains that arrive in the late afternoon or early evening after a hot sunny day. That’s what I heard today when I got home after a long day in Santa Rosa.

But when it rains, it pours – also in terms of little things that make life interesting and difficult. That’s what the last four days have felt like. A lot of good thing have happened but I’ll leave these to a later blog entry.

I took my car into the mechanic last week to change the oil and the radiator coolant as well as to check the hand brake. Two brake pads needed to be replaced. Ugh.

On Friday we had a training session for the new candidates to become extraordinary ministers of Communion – a two year process.

I got up, not feeling all that well – and two bouts of diarrhea ensued.

But when I went to start the car, it wouldn’t turn over. To make a long story short I got a ride to Dulce Nombre and a mechanic came out and fixed the problems, loose wires and a burnt out fuse. Because the fuse problem was solved only temporarily, I had to look for a new fuse. There were none of this amperage (30) available in Dulce Nombre and so I had to go to Santa Rosa after my afternoon presentation. I bought the fuse but as I was about to leave I noticed the turn signals didn’t work. I went back to the electricity taller and they fixed it for the price of a fuse.

My diarrhea continued until Sunday.

To make it more interesting we also have had no water in Plan Grande since last Friday. Broken pipes from the water source.

Sunday I managed to get well enough to get to Mass and First Communions in San Agustin and work with the youth group for an hour after Mass. But I was so weak I laid for hours in the hammock. (Thank God for hammocks.)

Today I went to a meeting at the Obispado (the Bishop's office) in Santa Rosa and parked my car on the street beside the building. The meeting lasted about five hours. After I got out of the meeting and did a few errands, I returned to the car and tried to put the key in the ignition. It wouldn't go in. I looked around and saw the glove compartment open, but I thought little of it , since it sometimes flies open on its own). Nothing was missing but this was strange. I then tried the other door and the key wouldn't work.

I called my mechanic friends to see if I could get some help.

As I was standing there waiting a young woman sitting on the sidewalk with a friend greeted me by name. She's from one of the aldeas (villages) of the parish. We had a nice talk and her friend said she had told her about me. It looks as if I cant go anywhere without someone recognizing me. (But there are not a lot of bald old gringos in western Honduras.)

Finally a mechanic came and dismantled the ignition lock cylinder; someone had broken in  and tried to steal the car. But the lock cylinder malfunctioned. Thank God!

My mechanic did not charge me and offered to help me get it put together after I got the part fixed. He also showed me how to start the car without the lock cylinder - something I won't share.

I took the ignition lock cylinder to a locksmith to see if it could be repaired. He couldn't and told me I needed to get a replacement and to look for one at a yonker. ("Yonker" is pronounces "junker" and is often a "junk yard.") He charged me nothing.

I went to two yonkers and neither had a replacement. The second will get one from San Pedro Sula tomorrow and will install it. He won't charge for labor! But it still is 2300 lempiras (a little over a hundred dollars.)

I got a call on the way home that they will have the part tomorrow morning.

It was late when I stopped in Dulce Nombre, about 6:30 pm, and someone asked me for a ride to a place about 45 minutes beyond where I live. I felt really bad and told them that I don’t like driving in the dark. It’s not  a question of security; it’s one of safety. My eyes don’t react as well as they used to when high beams or errant beams shine in my face or in the fog.

I also was emotionally exhausted.

I know. Poor excuse. But they seemed to understand.

This only points out one of the really hard parts of living here. I am privileged; I have connections; I have people who will do things for me without batting an eye.

Many of the poor don’t have these.

Poverty is being without connection, without resources, without a web of relations.


What a undiaconal week.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Saint Bonaventure and a diaconal spirit

God willing, Monseñor Darwin Andino will ordain me as a permanent deacon for the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, on Friday, July 15, which is the feast of St. Bonaventure.

Saint Bonaventure was an early Franciscan noted for his learning who lived from 1221 to 1274. He is noted for his learning and his writings as well as for his leadership of the Franciscan order in times of turmoil. He was a friend and colleague of St. Thomas Aquinas, though their theological and theological approaches were quite different. He produced a life of St. Francis as well as a work that treated Francis in philosophical and theological terms, The Journey of the Mind to God.

But Bonaventure was still a humble friar. He didn’t want to be a bishop, to climb the hierarchical ladder. In fact, he refused to accept the office of archbishop of York. But a later pope finally forced him to become cardinal bishop of Albano. The papal delegates who came pursuing him found Bonaventure in a remote friary, washing dishes. They had to wait until he was finished, according to one story putting the cardinal’s hat on a bush while waiting.

I did not plan to become a deacon. In fact, I forcefully turned down a suggestion in May 2014 by my pastor. But when the bishop independently asked me to consider the permanent diaconate that October I took a second look.

To become a deacon is not to have a higher place in the church. It is not a question of power or privilege or prestige. I think it is a question of washing dishes.

The deacon prepares the table of the Eucharist and presents the bread and wine to the priest during the Offertory. The deacon is also one of those who can purify the vessels after communion – washing the dishes.

In my mind, the deacon should also prepare the table for the poor, working with them to see that all are fed, not just at the table of the Lord but at the family table. Father Paul McPartlan puts it beautifully:

The deacon stands at the altar and prepares the gifts with clean hands, but he stands also where the practical need is greatest, getting his hands very dirty.

May I learn to get my hands dirty, at the side of the poor, so that I might become worthy to stand as a waiter at the table of the Lord.

Rev. Paul McPartland, “The Deacon and Gaudium et Spes,” in The Deacon Reader, edited by James Keating (Paulsit Press), p. 67.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Driving me crazy

There are aspects of life here in Honduras that could drive me crazy – if I let them. But, before recounting a few recent frustrations, I need to share an inspiring experience.

Tuesday night, after a day in Santa Rosa, I headed to Delicias, Concepción, a village on the side of a mountain to meet with the youth base community.

I arrived a bit early and had some time to talk with one of the young men in the group who is also a catechist. I asked him what group of children he worked with.

He and two others work with the smallest – from five to eight years old. A lot of their time is teaching the children basics – how to make the sign of the Cross, basic prayers, the commandments, and so on. I reminded him that it would be good to spend time talking about the life of Jesus.

He mentioned that there were forty-one in the class. There are three teachers, but that’s a handful.

Then he mentioned that the children have gone several times to visit a woman who is sick. The kids love it as does the woman. What a model of service the catechists are giving the children.

Slowly other young people arrived – mostly men! We spent the meeting discussing friendship, a theme I had developed with the leaders at their meeting earlier this month and which they wanted me to share with their groups. I’ll be repeating this workshop with at least two other groups in the next two weeks.

At the end of the meeting they had a few announcements. One of the leaders discussed when they would help a member of the community plant his fields. He had recently been in an auto accident and was unable to work as well as he had. So four of the guys will be going out next Monday to help him with his fields.

This reminded me of what I often heard from students from rural areas in Iowa. When someone was injured, sick, or incapacitated, the neighbors would often help with the planting or the harvest.
What an example of solidarity!

I returned to Plan Grande just in time to avoid driving in the driving rains that fell for several hours that night. But when I arrived all was in darkness. The electric was off until about 2:30 the next day.

Driving rains that flood my upstairs terrace and hours without electricity are not uncommon – and really don’t drive me crazy.

But what threatens my mental health are the many occasions where things are done without any real sense of how much they inconvenience people or affect nature.

First example: A month ago a section of the streets in Dulce Nombre was paved. The road was closed and people had a long detour to get through in order to reach the many communities which are beyond Dulce Nombre.

That was bad enough but then another section was paved. Instead of paving first one half and then the other the whole short section was paved. But this ended up blocking passage to the roads that connect to about forty villages as well as the town of San Agustín. To get around this cars and busses had to go through narrow, often one lane, dirt roads amidst coffee fields.

Second example: Two years ago a major flood at an intersection of roads leading to the same villages ended up causing a number of people to move. Also a small evangelical church was flooded. As I saw it, the flood was caused by a lack of planning and a disregard of environmental conditions. A road was widened with some drainage ditches; but a large coffee owned had cut down trees and planted coffee near there. The lack of trees and vegetation to retain the soil resulted in filling the ditches as well as a small bridge under the road.

The bridge was never really rebuilt; it was really just a few concrete tubes under the road, which often were clogged by the dirt, rocks, and sand.

Well, now someone is building by the area and, of course, the drainage ditches are filled and the water is trying to find its own course. And so the evangelical church was again flooded.

Third example: My Honduran driver’s license expires on Friday and I went to renew it. You need three medical notes (eyes, general health, and psychological health). I had a note from my eye doctor and got the two other notes in about five minutes (paying 220 lempiras – about ten dollars). Then I went. Sorry, I was told. You have to come back tomorrow.  The office doesn’t have the material to make the licenses. I’ll see if they have the material tomorrow.

This is not uncommon. I have friends who have had to go to Tegucigalpa several times to get their residency cards. Their residency is approved but they have to get the cards. But sometimes the system is down; sometimes there is no plastic to laminate the cards or some other material is missing.

Such is life here.

But what really does drive me crazy is the way that the poor are treated. As I waited to get some papers photocopied I had to listen to a rant against campesinos which was filled with contempt. I almost wanted to go elsewhere.

This is in contrast to the owner of a small company that roasts coffee as well as doing tasting and cupping. The owner took several hours one morning to explain the work to a group of small farmers. He and his employees treated the men with utmost respect.

What really drives me crazy – mad – is the continuing poverty and the way that some government officials use aid as a way to influence votes. The people are tools, mere instruments, of their political ambitions. I also have seen this with some aid groups. How many teeth are we going to extract today; how many patients are we going to see.

In contrast, a few months ago a small US medical aid group, AMIGA, came to two of the rural clinics in the municipality of Concepción. I ended up helping with some translation. What I saw was a real personal touch and a real concern for the well-being of the people. I noted this with one woman who had serious breathing problems as well as with a man who was experiencing profound grief after the brutal killing of one of his sons. These people were treated with respect. And they group did not forget the people. A few months later they sent someone with vitamins for the pregnant women whom they had seen. God willing, they may continue to be coming to our area.

Even worse is the continuing repression of people who fight for human rights. Berta Cáceres was killed for her work with the indigenous; many are threatened. Journalists are threatened and a station has been banned. 

And so frustrations abound, but there are signs of goodness. May the latter increase.

I finished this entry on Wednesday afternoon but couldn’t post it since the internet wasn’t working. Then the electricity went off again and hadn’t returned by Thursday morning. Another cold shower. But dawn was gorgeous.

I went to Santa Rosa de Copán. I got my license after about an hour and a half. I also got my new glasses – now to get used to them.

I’m sending this from Café de las Velas in Santa Rosa where I’m having lunch before returning to Plan Grande.