Monday, June 26, 2017

A full week

Some weeks I have a few structured activities and so I can accompany the pastor in Masses and visits in various communities. Last week was, in contrast, filled with activities. This week also promises to be busy.

It began on Sunday, June 18, the feast of Corpus Christi. Padre German had asked me to go to Bañaderos for a procession and Celebration of the Word with Communion in the morning. 

I picked up some people on the road, going to the celebration. 

It went very well – with more than seventy participating from various communities.

  But on the way back the car emitted a loud noise – and I stopped to find one of the belts wrapped around the fan. Of course, several guys stopped to see how they could help me. They found another belt on the ground. We removed the broken belt and put the fallen belt in place and I proceeded warily home. There, a neighbor’s son-in-law noticed that one of my tires appeared to be going flat. I began to change it and he came over to help me. We also noticed some oil and I feared it was brake fluid. So I didn’t go to San Agustín as I had planned for Mass and Procession there with Padre German.

The next morning I warily drove to Dulce Nombre where I had the tire fixed, two bands replaced, and the ball-bearings in the tire well and in the hydraulic fan belt system replaced. I then went into Santa Rosa for some errands.

Tuesday I was off to a meeting of coordinators of social ministry in Delicias, Concepción, in one zone of the parish. It was a very fruitful meeting and I’m hoping that their ministry is revived. They are responsible for encouraging the social response of their local communities – visiting the sick and the elderly, responding to the needs of the poor and sick, and more. Thursday I met with the social ministry in another zone. This week I have meetings on Tuesday and Thursday in other zones. I hope to continue to connect with people in their sectors to promote this important ministry – which is closely allied with my ministry as a deacon.

Wednesday I had planned to get to Santa Rosa to have my car looked over and to get some propane gas for cooking. I also planned to take the monstrance I had borrowed back to the church there. When I got to the first houses of the nearby aldea of Candelaria I had to stop. The rains had made the road a muddy soup. I got out, took a look, walked and hitched a ride to the church and hitched a ride back. Then I stood around and watched as cars tried, successfully, to get down the road and unsuccessfully to go up. I decided to return to Plan Grande since I had no way of know if they would repair the road enough so that I could get up the hill when I returned from Santa Rosa. They did make enough repairs on the road – dirt, rock, and gravel – and I could have returned but I decided not to risk having to stay somewhere else for the night.

Thursday, the morning social ministry meeting was in El Zapote Santa Rosa – which is usually an easy drive. But this time there was a lot of damage in two places on the road. In the afternoon I went to Candelaria at 4:00 to take Communion to the sick.

Bringing Communion to the sick is a ministry I love, even though I don’t do it enough. The two candidates preparing to become Communion ministers and a few others came with me.

First, we visited a man who was in bed because he had lost feeling in all his lower body. He was lucid and we talked and prayed. I shared communion with him and his wife. Later, in the midst of a downpour, we went to the house down the hill to bring communion to an elderly woman who can’t walk to get to church. We talked for a bit and I kidded her a lot – some would call it flirting. I was surprised when she told me she was 85 years old. It was a joy to bring communion to these faithful people. I will have to make sure to do this several times in the next few months since Candelaria’s Communion minister is gone for three months.

Friday and Sunday, I facilitated workshops for Caritas on analysis of conflicts regarding water with the water boards of several villages. They were good experiences – with very different situations and conflicts. I had done a few conflict workshops in the past but these were very different. I also found myself learning more about some of the tools I was using. I also noted how difficult critical thinking is for many people here. Even trying to distinguish causes and effects is difficult for fair number of people. They have been so indoctrinated into mechanic memorization that analysis is hard.

Friday, leaving for the workshop I passed through a section of the road between two aldeas where a landslide had moved part of the hill, including a number of trees, into the road, narrowing access. When I returned that afternoon I noted that they had cut the trees but I didn’t see signs that there had been any other work.

Saturday, I was going to help with the training for the candidates for Communion ministry. When  got to the site of the landslide, I noted that a huge boulder had fallen into the road. I tried to get round it but couldn’t. A number of young (and old) men tried to move it but also tried to widen the road by cutting into the earthen side of the road. Finally, I got through. 

When I returned that afternoon, the boulder had been removed and a bulldozer was at work, but the road was still narrow.

I had hoped to get to the 6:30 am Mass but we arrived at about 7:20 – having left Plan Grande at 5:45 for what is usually a twenty-minute trip.

After breakfast, Padre German worked with them for an hour. I then facilitated an exercise with them to help them develop the pastoral skills needed for visiting the sick and elderly.  It was quite interesting to see how different they worked. A young man, who had been with me on Wednesday, sat by the “ill” person, gently touching his shoulders, and staying on the same level when they prayed. One other began seated at the same level as the “ill’ person and even gently helped the ill person sit up in his chair. But when he began to pray, he stood up. In the other two cases, they stood up for the whole visit.

Reviewing this, I noted the importance of being on the same level as the person they are visiting. We are there to bring the Eucharist and to pray with the person and not just for them.

I think that they are so ingrained with a style of worship where the delegate leads that a pastoral approach that emphasizes community and being with the person is difficult for many. A hierarchical approach to prayer and the sacraments that does not see the centrality of service and accompaniment may make it hard for many to live a pastoral practice that is not top-down. I hope that our activity helps them to develop a real pastoral practice of loving service and compassionate accompaniment.

As we were finishing this exercise, some of the current Communion ministers were putting a table cloth on the table at the front of the room where we were working. But then they had me close my eyes and had me go up on the elevated section of the room – a sort of stage. When I opened my eyes I saw what they had done. There were a cake there – to celebrate my feast day, St. John the Baptist, and my birthday at the beginning of June. A celebration followed.

At the landslide area they were doing some work.

When I got home, I found several members of AMIGA, an organization that is sending two brigades a year to our area. They had brought medicine and were storing it in the mayor’s house here in Plan Grande. (They hope to build a warehouse in Concepción in the future.) The two directors stayed with me.

Sunday, I got up early to get to Mass in Concepción and then the water and conflict workshop in Dulce Nombre. The six persons from AMIGA came with me to Mass.

On my way home it started raining again. I suddenly got a phone message from the leader of the youth in Camalote where I was going in the late afternoon. She told me that it might be better to put off the visit because of the rains. I was, to be honest, grateful. I didn’t feel like navigating the terrible roads again – especially by the landslide.

So I went home, giving a ride to people who were stranded in Santa Rosa because there are not busses to most of the area of the parish.

This morning I work up to sun. I plan to go to Santa Rosa to have my car looked at – there are strange squeaks when I drive. But I first washed some clothes which I hope can dry before the rains come this afternoon.

Life is complicated but good – for me.

But it is more complicated for people here – without transportation, with landslides to maneuver (even threatening houses in some communities), and probable loss of corn crops. Such is the reality of the impoverished.

But it is even more complicated for people here – without transportation, with landslides to maneuver (even threatening houses in some communities), and probably loss of corn crops. Such is the reality of the impoverished.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rain, rain go away

It’s been raining – more than usual for this time of the year. Until yesterday we have had few days with sunshine and almost no days without intense rains.

It’s normal to have intense rainstorms this time of the year – but usually the sun is strong for the morning and part of the afternoon. This dries out the earth a bit. But this year continuing rains and days without sunshine have saturated the earth.

And so this year the rains have been disastrous in our area. Parts of roads have been washed out; other parts have collapsed.

Landslides have been common. In a few places they have left huge boulders in the roads.

In several areas the road bed has dropped several inches.

In some places the road has turned to mud and it is nearly impossible to get up the hill.

I have even heard that houses have been affected and even a small dam has been breached.

Some areas are almost incommunicado. Busses are not running in many places and so people have to walk or find a ride in a pickup.

Some of these are natural disasters, others have human causes.

There is one place where the municipal government bought land to make a football (soccer) field for the village. They leveled it off, but left huge boulders near the side of the road. As the raids began in earnest, the road became increasingly muddy. About two weeks ago I mentioned to someone that this was a disaster in the making. Yesterday, passing by the site, I saw the first disaster. The hillside had moved, leaving a huge breach above and even moving several trees. Before two cars could pass, but now only one – with difficulty. When I returned in the afternoon, the only change was that the trees had been cut down. The mayor had not sent any heavy machinery to try to move the mud and widen the passage.

Well, Saturday morning, the disaster worsened. A huge rock had fallen onto the road and passage was impossible. I tried twice – but it was too narrow. Cars lined up on both sides and some men came out to try to widen the road. They even tried to move the rock, but without success. Finally, I could get through. As I drove toward Dulce Nombre, I came across a bulldozer that was going toward the site. 

When I returned from the meeting they were working on the road – moving tons of earth.

Why is it so bad?

People tell me this year there has been more rain than normal. Is this another example of the effects of climate change? Also, there has been a lot of deforestation – often connected with planting coffee, often done after burning the fields.

Also, as far as I know, there are no environmental laws that govern the construction of buildings and the use of land. If there are, they are not enforced.

Also, in several municipalities there is poor maintenance of the roads. Maybe they don’t have money, but in two municipalities there was money to construct decorative stairways that go nowhere.

I do have to say that at least one of the municipalities seems to be responding well. Last Wednesday the road in Candelaria was impassible, because a hilly section had turned into pure mud. Yet later that day rocks and gravel and dirt had been spread on the area and heavy machinery had flattened it out. It’s not perfect, but cars can pass.

In contrast, there were places that looked as if there would be a disaster if nothing were done. Nothing was done – and the road was impassible for several hours. I could pass this morning only because of the efforts of several men trying to move a rock and others trying to widen the passageway by picking away at the earthen sides of the road.

It’s not that there is not the know-how here to do things well. Sometimes the poverty or the diversion of funds by crooked politicians affects the quality of construction. Also, there seems to be a lack of looking for people who know how to deal with issues like susceptibility to landslides, firmness of the earth, etc. Sometimes it’s looking for a short-cut to get something done – at times because it would slow down a project (which a politician wants to have done to ensure re-election). Sometimes it’s just laziness. Sometimes it’s the greed of large landowners who cut corners and create dangerous situations.

There are other reasons. I invite comments to help us understand what’s really happening and why.