Last Saturday night, during Mass in Dolores, Padre German Navarro, pastor of the Dulce Nombre de María parish offered special prayers for our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa. He also spoke strongly and gratefully of the solidarity that St. Thomas has offered our parish.
Recalling that today, I thought it might be good to provide a look at where our parish is going this year.
At the end of December, we had our parish assembly, to evaluate and plan for a busy year.
We have been somewhat busy in the parish in this first month of the year, though we have curtailed our formation activities because of the coffee harvest.
Padre German has continued to celebrate the Eucharist at least twice a day in different towns and villages in the parish. He did, however, take a much needed week away.
As a deacon I often accompanied Padre German. He often asked me to preach as well as to baptize. Although he presides at the Mass, my preaching and baptizing give him a chance to sit down and rest.
I have presided at two Sunday Celebrations of the Word with Communion. On the Epiphany the celebration was in a community with very muddy streets.
I have also presided at one funeral and two anniversaries of deaths. Consoling those who mourn is becoming an important part of my diaconal ministry. At one I noted this beautiful drawing on the church wall by a child in religious education, a drawing based on a line drawing of an icon I had distributed to the catechists.
January is one of the busiest times of the coffee harvest – which lasts, in most places, from late November to mid-February. Parishioners from different parts of the parish worked on the parish’s coffee fields (nearly 3 acres) more than five days in January, mostly harvesting. The pastor and I helped in the harvesting as well as in transporting people to and from the field and in transporting the coffee to the sites for de-pulping and washing the beans.
January is also the time to prepare for the school year. For five years St. Thomas Aquinas has provided partial scholarships for students in the alternative middle school and high school program, Maestro en Casa. I reviewed the applications and am arranging the transfer of funds which will pay for some of the costs for this program which provides access to education to mostly poor young people living in remote villages.
There were also two major events outside the parish that I participated in. On Saturday January 7, the deanery had a celebration of the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Two weeks later, the diocese celebrated the end of the year of celebrating the centenary of its founding. I attended both Masses and served as one of the deacons at both of them.
This year we are hoping to increase our work with the youth in the parish. I have been meeting with youth groups in several locations but we want to do more this year, including more participation in the National Youth Encounter which will be held in our diocese in June.
As part of our work with youth, I invited three Dubuque Franciscan sisters who work in La Entrada, Copan, to do a workshop with our leaders. We had fewer than I had hoped, but there was great spirit and great enthusiasm.
As a follow-up and as a way to plan for some up-coming events, we had a meeting on Sunday morning in Dulce Nombre. We planned a parish-wide youth encounter for Sunday, February 12 – with participation from six groups, Mass, and some futbol (what you call “soccer” in the US).
February we begin our work of formation.
I will be having a parish-wide assembly of catechists. We have more or less than 150 catechists in the fifty towns, villages, and hamlets. In such a de-centralized system, we need several parish-wide gatherings to share information, as well as regular training sessions in the four zones of the parish several times a year.
This year, we also hope to reinvigorate the Social Ministry of the parish. Each base community – as well as the sectoral, zonal, and parish councils is supposed to be organized around the triple dimension of ministry: prophetic, liturgical, and social. We plan to have a parish wide assembly in February of the coordinators of social ministry in every village and ongoing training sessions in the zones of the parish. I envision helping set up a solidarity fund to help people in times of need.
In order to strengthen and re-invigorate the base communities and the community councils, we’ll be having training sessions for the triple ministry in every zone of the parish, several times a year, beginning in February. I’ll be helping Padre German with these meetings.
I am also working with the extraordinary ministers of communion in the parish. There are fourteen active ministers and twenty in training. What is unique about extraordinary ministers in Honduras is their ministry to the sick and the elderly. They are expected to regularly visit them as well as distribute Communion at Masses and Celebrations of the Word with Communion.
Last October we had over seventy parishioners spend a week in mission in all the villages in the parish. In groups of two or three, they visited homes and planned special activities at the sites, ranging from collecting food for a poor family to meeting with youth and base communities. It was amazing since they went without cell-phone and without money.
Padre German proposed a follow-up to this by having missionaries go to villages on the first four days of Holy Week. We will be training them for this as well as for another week-long mission in October.
Holy Week is an important part of the life of faith here. This year, due to the distances, we are encouraging celebrations in the towns and villages. We will, of course, have a parish-wide Stations of the Cross on the Friday before Holy Week. There will also be a special Easter Vigil in Dulce Nombre, especially to celebrate the more than forty people who are scheduled to be baptized at the Vigil. But we will prepare materials for the villages for the whole week and have a day-long training session in late March.
In May we will have a training session for Delegates of the Word, those who lead Sunday Celebrations of the Word in their communities. Some have led celebrations for decades and can use some additional formation, but there are a good number of people who would like to serve as delegates – including a good number of young people – who need training.
This report just scratches the surface of what we expect to do this year.
It doesn’t include the continuing preparation for the sacraments, the Masses that Padre German celebrates in every village every two months, the catechumenate for those over 14 who want to be baptized, as well as the preparation of couples for the sacrament of matrimony. It doesn’t include new initiatives to develop materials for base communities as well as for religious formation at all levels. It doesn't include the work I am doing with a small association of small coffee growers that exported 3000 pounds of coffee last year and hopes to export the same or more this year.
There is much to be done and for this I am grateful. But this gives us the opportunity to spread the Joy of the Gospel in our little portion of the world.