Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mission and more

October is the month of the missions.

Many think of missionaries as those who go to a foreign land, eat exotic food, suffer without water and electricity, and are always smiling.


But here in our parish there is a different sense of mission. In the spirit of the Latin American bishops’ meeting in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil, we are all called to be disciples-missionaries. If this sounds familiar, this is also a theme of Pope Francis which he knew very well as one of the major writers of the Aparecida document.

But our parish has a special way of doing mission work. This year, as we did last year, the parish sent out about 45 people in twos (or threes) to villages throughout the parish, from Sunday October 8 to Sunday October 15. They went without money, without cell-phone, not to preach but, by visiting people in their homes and listening to them, to help them discover the God of mercy in their lives, their families, their communities.

The missionaries were sent out at the end of Mass on October 8. Two new missionaries received a cross to wear but all of the missionaries received a cross which fits in the palm of the hand. But the cross was to be given to a sick person or another person in need. The crosses were given so that the sick, the elderly, the homebound would have a reminder that Christ is there with them in their suffering.

 They were also given a rosary. A parish in San Antonio had donated rosaries to AMIGA which has sent medical brigades to this area several times (and are here right now.) The directors gave them to me and we gave them to the missionaries so that they could give them to someone who wanted to pray the rosary but did not have one; it didn’t matter if they were ill or well, old or young. It was to be given to encourage them to pray.

Most communities sent someone to bring them to their assigned villages. One group was waiting on the church steps but no one arrived. Another group, accompanied by someone from the village, was there, but they had no ride. So I gave them a ride. Two missionaries and their guide got off the truck at one point to walk to the village. I took the others to San Marcos Pavas, one of the most remote villages in the parish. We were able to get in because the landslide had been partially removed. However, I left my car on the other side of the landslide.

During the week I went to two places to preside at a Holy Hour and Benediction. Thursday I led them here in Plan Grande. Friday I was going to another remote village but, after calling someone from their at the suggestion of Padre German, I decided not to go, since the road was washed out in one place due to a ground fault. The experience of the Holy Hours was very good for me. I left time for all of us to place the sick, the departed, and all our needs before Christ in the Eucharist.

Saturday I went to a meeting of one of the zones, most of all to help them plan for Confirmation in a village there in less than two weeks.

Sunday, we had the closing Mass of Thanksgiving with the returning missionaries.

Monday, I spent at least five hours in church in Dulce Nombre.

Confirmations are scheduled for October 25 and 26. The more than 250 to be confirmed (as well as their sponsors need to go to confession before confirmation day. Padre German has had some confessions in the aldeas but most of those to be confirmed and some sponsors came to Dulce Nombre on Monday for confession. Padre German asked me to arrange a morning of prayer and more while he heard confession. So we had a penitential rite with prayers, readings, and music, which had been planned by several young catechists, followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for about an hour, followed by the Rosary led by one of the local sisters, Oblates of the Divine Love. Thanks be to God three priests arrived to hear more than 300 confessions – during more than three hours. Then we concluded with a Mass.

What a sign of Gods’ love and mercy.

After Mass, I rushed off to Concepción, Copán, about ten minutes away. AMIGAS was attending patients there and they needed translation help. I helped for a few hours and then headed home.

Tuesday I helped translating for the brigade which saw people in nearby Candelaria, Concepción. 

After leaving a few doctors went to the home of a bed-bound woman about 32 years old who lives here in Plan Grande. The doctors examined her and will see what can be done. During the visit the mother mentioned that they had not had a blood test for several years, mostly for lack of the thirty or so dollars needed. I told her about the parish’s Solidarity Fund and we’ll see what we can do. I also shared Communion with the woman – praying for continuing healing of body and soul.

Next week we have confirmations and we’re trying to get ready for that. In addition, I’ll be leaving for the US right after confirmations -  a time to visit our sister parish in Ames, Iowa, as well as to take a short retreat at a Trappist monastery.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Caring for our common home

Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, on the care of creation, has been a breath of fresh air. Our bishop has made care for the common home one of the pastoral frameworks for the diocese and we’ll be considering this at the diocesan assembly in November.

In our parish, we celebrated the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi within this perspective of care for God’s good earth. It is not without significance that the title of Pope Francis’s encyclical is taken from St. Francis’s Canticle of Creation.

To celebrate this the parish organized three Ecological Stations of the Cross in three areas where the local church is dedicated to Saint Francis. I got to two of them, since I spent the evening of October 3 with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters and other associates in Gracias. A welcome change of pace.

For the first celebration, the morning of October 3, we  began near Camalote and ended with Mass in Dolores. A crowd gathered and we walked in the hot sun, up the hill. (I forgot to bring a hat!)

The second celebration was in El Zapote Santa Rosa, but I didn’t get there.

The third celebration was in Zone 4 of the parish – one of the most remote. I went to Delicias Concepción where we were planning to end the Stations with Mass. I had decided not to walk the whole way but met them as they began the seventh or eighth station.

I was very impressed by one poster made by a catechist from San Isidro La Cueva. I like how she put both the problem and a solution in the same poster.

Padre German was rather strong in his preaching – recalling the problems of the environment here, from cutting the forests to burning the mountainsides to plant coffee. He especially noted the problem of water and the rivers. There are major concessions open to private companies to use the rivers for profit. These are the roots of major social conflicts here. Very interestingly, he noted the death of COPINH indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, killed last year for her leadership in trying to save rivers in the department of Intibucá.

It will be interesting to see what comes of the diocesan efforts to respond to the environmental problems. We have a major Canadian mining company operating in the area, using cyanide leaching to extract gold from the rock and removing a cemetery to extract gold where the dead had previously rested. There are also major mining and river concessions in the area, most notably in the departments of Santa Bárbara and Intibucá. Monoculture is a problem in many areas and in the south of the diocese there are serious drought problems.

I plan to work with the catechists to help them incorporate some dimensions of the car of our common home in their religious education – not just in terms of theory. I am hoping we can offer them a spirituality of creation to sustain them and the children and youth as well as suggesting various ways to show care in their villages.

Photos from the procession between Camalote and Dolores.

Photos from the procession to Delicias Concepción.

Environment and weather

Hearing of flooding in south Asia, hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the United States, and earthquakes in Mexico, it seems a little whiney to be writing about our weather here.

Rain, rain, rain – as well as heat. But mostly rain.

Water flowing over a concrete bridge, 8 October 2017
October to February is the part of the rainy season that is also quite cool. But we’ve been having heavy rains for weeks in September – more than I remember in any previous year. In many places the earth is almost completely saturated.

The results can be disastrous.

One section of the major international highway that goes between the Caribbean port of Puerto Cortez and El Salvador and Guatemala collapsed and cut off traffic for weeks. The breach in the road is between Santa Rosa de Copán and Cucyagua in a stretch of the highway that was recently repaired. The authorities are saying it is on a geological fault, which is probably partly true because up to sixty nearby houses were severely damaged and hundred displaced. But there also was a 4.3 earthquake not very far from there that may have exaggerated the fault line.

But the rains also have wreaked havoc here in our area. It is not yet as bad as it was in June and July but it could get significantly problematic.

Landslides abound. Even the retention wall below my house fell after a fierce rainfall. It’s now being rebuilt. But this is not merely a question of saturated soil. The former neighbor had excavated soil that had been keeping the wall up. This weakened the wall.

Sunday, October 1, I went to one of the most remote villages, San Marcos Las Pavas, for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. As I approached the church, I was stopped by a landslide that had left only a small muddy path for people to cross. Needless to say, I turned the car around and got out and walked through the mud and water to the church.

The people told me that there was another landslide the other side of the church. More than half of a road had fallen into the ravine below. 

This Sunday I went back with two of the missionaries who are visiting the villages of the parish this week. Part of the path had been cleared from the landslide, but I didn’t trust crossing it with a car. (I was told that the clearing was done by members of the community.)

 I then went to see the other landslide – which had gotten significantly worse.

There are also some very slippery patches of the roads. Last week I approached a curve (where I had slid into the side of the road in August) and saw a bus stuck on the side of the road. I passed with trepidation, but made it.

We also have an increases of deep holes and ditches running across the road in various places but most often down the middle or side of the road. It becomes very tricky negotiating these, mostly trying to avoid them, since they can be between six and twelve inches deep.

I also am seeing several places where the road is sinking. In one place there were deep spots a few months ago, it looks as if the earth will fall again.


Climate change can be a major cause. People here say they haven’t seen such damage from rain since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. I haven’t seen such rain in the ten years I’ve been here.

But there is the problem of neglect.

In some places there has not been up-keep of the roads for a long time. So in a few places almost nothing has been done, even after previous damage. In the curve where the bus slid over to the side of the road, this has been a problem recently because some repair work was done and, in my estimation, not enough gravel was put down.

In this one municipality, people have gone out and done some minor repairs, mostly filling in deep holes with earth. But the municipal government seems to have done little.

In another municipality, the situation has been significantly better since they have put gravel on many roads which helps prevent slippery roads, since a lot of the earth here is clay.

In addition, when there’s a landslide, it is often left at the side of the road, waiting for the municipality to do something. In one case, nothing was done for about a month and so large fissures may driving on the road below the landslide very tricky. But in this case, some people took up shovels and picks and removed the landslide and filled part of the fissures.

In addition, these are narrow roads that often have a lot of traffic. There are busses that pass several times a day, but during the year there are often many truck carrying coffee.

Also, some land owners plant coffee and make roads into their fields without any concern for environmental effects or for possible landslides. There is at least one place where there have been more than four landslides this year. Luckily they have not blocked the whole road.

As for environmental laws or regulations for building, these are virtually non-existent. People build wherever they can. I can understand this when people in poverty build wherever they can. There is often no land available to buy and the large landowners keep grabbing more land and raising prices. But in at least one place a coffee purchasing warehouse and drying area was built where there have been serious problems of flooding of the highway. I doubt if anyone analyzed the environmental effects of the building.

I have not even begun to try to analyze the effect of large scale burning of the fields and the ensuing deforestation. This is most often the practice of large landowners, sometimes looking for a cheap way to clear an area so that they can plant coffee. 

Now one of these landowners did burn a significant area a few years ago, but he has planted hundreds of madreado trees in his fields; this will positively help the environment. But in other places I have seen scorched earth with trees deliberately cut down.

There is much more to write about, but I’ll wait and see how the rains in these next four months affects our lives here.