Sunday, November 03, 2019

Back home

It's good to be back home.

I’ve been back in Honduras since October 22 and, though I’ve taken time to do some cleaning, some car repair, and some preparation of materials, I’ve been involved in several different ministries.

On Saturday October 26 we had the first part of our parish annual assembly, a day to evaluate what we are doing in the parish. More than fifty people came and we worked in groups. The first part was identifying social problems. Problems of water and deforestation were identified as two of the most serious problems. Migration and its effect on the disintegration of families, health problems and the lack of health services, and drugs and alcohol were also frequently mentioned. We also evaluated the formation activities in the parish as well as organizational issues.

I had to leave early since young people from six different places were having a day long get-together. They had asked me to come for a closing Celebration of the Word with Communion. I arrived and they were still doing a number of activities. After the celebration, I had a short evaluation with the leaders. There is a great desire for formation.

AMIGA Honduras, a medical group that comes to our area twice year arrived on Friday. I drove some of them to San Juan Concepción Saturday morning before the parish meeting. But I really didn’t get to interact with them until they got to Sunday Mass in Dulce Nombre. That afternoon, they came to my house and I shared with them some of my thoughts on the situation of Honduras.

Monday and Tuesday they went to two rural communities – El Zapote de Dulce Nombre and Granadillal. I accompanied them to help with translation, although they had help from some young people from a bilingual school in Santa Rosa de Copán.

In Granadillal, they saw over 550 people – many of whom I know. This was the first time a medical brigade had been in that region – and it was apparent to me that the needs are great in that part of the parish. I hope they can get there when they come next June.

Wednesday in the afternoon I helped arrange the delivery of a wheel chair from the brigade to a dentist I know who would see that it was delivered to a remote village in Ocotepeque.

Friday was the feast of All Saints, which is not very big here. But there was a Mass in the cemetery of Oromilaca, which is in a beautiful place, with gorgeous views. I could even see my house in Plan Grande several miles away!

Padre German had another Mass that day, in the cemetery of San Agustín, but he had four Masses on Saturday, All Souls Day, the commemoration of the faithful departed.

I got up early Saturday and headed out to the 7 am Mass in the cemetery of Delicias. In a light rain, we celebrated the Eucharist – but got pretty wet.

Afterwards I went with some people visiting graves. I stopped at the grave of Juan Ángel Pérez, a young father from Debajiados who died three years ago. He was a candidate to become a Communion minister. I had gone with him several times to bring communion to his parents and was there at his funeral and his internment. His son and his parents were cleaning the gravesite. This was his mother’s first visit to his grave since she had been gravely ill and confined to home until recently.

In the afternoon, there was Mass in Candelaria. I went to the cemetery hoping it would be there, but they had moved it to the church because of fear of rain.

Today, Sunday, I went to Debajiados for a Celebration of the Word and Communion – in the midst of a cold rain. There was a nice congregation despite the rain. After the celebration a kid asked me if I could help his family with a little money for milk. They had been at the brigade’s clinic in Granadillal and his widowed mother was told that the youngest needed milk to prevent calcium deficiency. I gave him a little money and need to see how to help more in the future. This reminded me of how people need simple food like milk to keep their children healthy but don’t have the resources to get them.

After Mass I gave a few people a ride to relatives in El Zapote Santa Rosa and then, as I returned home, I saw some folks out working in a coffee field in the rain.

This afternoon, there’s Mass in Plan Grande.

This week I have a meeting of catechists on Wednesday and a meeting of Social Ministry on Friday. Friday night and Saturday there is a deanery evaluation meeting.

November is here – and it’s starting to turn colder. It’s only 68o and has been rainy, though the sun is out now. I expect we’ll have temperatures in the fifties in a few weeks with rain; this is bone-chilling. I can put on several layers of clothes and two blankets at night. But I still wonder how many will be cold in their homes (outside of the kitchen).

Still, it’s a continuing blessing to be here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Women missionary martyrs and other witnesses

I have read in reports on the Synod of the Amazon that there are many women, especially women religious, who have a major role in evangelization and the life of the church in the region. To adapt an image, women hold up at least half the church.

Today, looking at my calendar of witnesses, I noted that on this date five religious women were martyred.

On October 23, 1992, Sisters Kathleen McGuire, Shirley Kolmer, and Agnes Mueller, U.S. missionaries in Liberia, Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood of Christ, were killed in the Gardnerville section of Monrovia, Liberia. Three days before, two other members of their congregation were killed, Sisters Barbara Ann Muttra and Mary Joel Kolmer. Despite the violence, they had decided to stay with their people. This struck home for me when I first heard of the valiant presence of these women since the two Kolmer cousins had a relative in the parish where I was serving.

On October 23, 1994, Sisters Esther Paniagua and Caridad María Alvarez, Spanish Augustinian Missionaries, were killed in the Bab-el-Ued section of Algiers, Algeria. They were beatified last year with other martyrs of Algeria, including the more famous Trappist monks of Tibhurine.

They are just a few of many women missionary martyrs including Sister Dorothy Stang, martyred in the Amazon on February 12, 2005, who show us the powerful love and mercy of God. There are also the four women martyred in El Salvador in December, 1980; Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan. 

Another less known woman, Annalena Tonelli, an Italian lay missionary in Kenya and Somalia, was killed in Somalia on October 5, 2003. She worked for those at the margins, “the poor, the suffering, the abandoned, the unloved,” working with those suffering from tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, working against Female genital mutilation, as well as advocating for Somali refugees in Kenya (for which she was expelled from Kenya). She was killed in the hospital where she served the poor and marginalized.

These and many women left their homes and stayed, even when violence surrounded them. Though many were not martyred, they gave their lives in ways that continue to astound me.

I am blessed to have met and worked with some of them. While researching the role of the church in Suchitoto, El Salvador, I heard one Salvadoran women speak of the witness of five US sisters in her area who visited their communities in a war zone. "They came and took away our fear."

Such is the witness of women in the missions and in our world. They remind us, in the words of Annalena Tonelli:

“[Those] who count for nothing in the eyes of the world, but so much in the eyes of God . . . have need of us, and we must be with them and for them, and it doesn’t matter at all if our action is like a drop of water in the ocean. Jesus Christ did not speak about results. He only spoke about loving each other, about washing each other’s feet, of forgiving each other always.”

A 1992 photo of four of the sisters who worked in Suchitoto, before the San Salvador cathedral,
in a celebration of the ceasefire that ended the Salvadoran civil war.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Mission Sunday - Iowa, Honduras, Bolivia, the Amazon, and the world

Today is Mission Sunday in the Extraordinary Month of Mission that Pope Francis called for to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Maximum Illud, an apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XV on the missions.

Today is also the end of the week of mission in the deanery of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. About fifty members of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María went on mission to the parish of Corquín, Copán, more than an hour away from Dulce Nombre. They spent the week – without money and without cellphone – visiting homes in scattered villages throughout that parish.

Missionaries of the Dulce Nombre parish
I had a less gruelling mission – visiting our sister parish, Saint Thomas Aquinas, in Ames, Iowa, and a visit to the Iowa City Catholic Worker.

At Thursday Night Liturgy at St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames
We prepared our missionaries with four sessions. At one of them, our pastor had asked me to share some thoughts on the letter of Pope Benedict XV.

The letter does respond to the situation of the early twentieth century, but there were several points that clearly redirected the sense of mission. One that I particularly appreciated the call to separate missionary activity from nationalism of any sort.

Part of the problem of missionaries has often been that they have come with the invaders – Franciscans and others came to the Americas with the conquistadors. I wonder if sometimes the native peoples identified them with the mother country and not with our real mother country – the Reign of God. A few like the Dominican priest and bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas, were exceptions.

But Pope Benedict XV advised missionaries to avoid nationalism. He noted that
“…such a situation could easily give rise to the conviction that the Christian religion is the national religion of some foreign people and that anyone converted to it is abandoning his loyalty to his own people and submitting to the pretensions and domination of a foreign power.”

And so, “it is not our vocation to expand the frontiers of human empires, but those of Christ, nor to add any citizens to countries here below but to our fatherland above.“

Pope Benedict XV goes on to characterize the missionary as humble, obedient, chaste, and a person of prayer. Meeting the unbeliever,
“...his bearing toward them is neither scornful nor fastidious; his treatment of them is neither harsh nor rough. Instead, he makes use of all the arts of Christian kindness to attract them to himself, so that he may eventually lead them into the arms of Christ, into the embrace of the Good Shepherd.”

In my meeting with our parish missionaries, I noted how they were going to different places not to impose our way of being a parish but to help open spaces for God to work.

As I look at the Synod of the Amazon, I see a part of the Church struggling to be a Church in place, not a church which is tied to any foreign nation or culture. I believe that some of the opposition comes from trying to hold onto a European/North American cultural expression of the faith – without noting that the Church in those places took much from the local culture in the early centuries of the Church.

What is important is to be open to the presence of Christ Jesus who was born into a particular culture and political situation but who transcends these. Christ and his message can find echoes and reception in many cultures. We should live in hope – and not in fear.

This afternoon, I had a few hours between Mass and dinner with some friends and so decided to spend time at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Student Center, here in Ames. I decided to visit the room dedicated to the Dulce Nombre de María parish, acknowledging our sister relationship, and also the room dedicated to “Cigar Box Ray.”

I entered the room and immediately saw the display in honor of Father Ray Herman, a graduate of Iowa State University, a priest of the Dubuque archdiocese, and a missionary to Bolivia. Reading one plaque I realized that today is the anniversary of his martyrdom in Morochata, near Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I wrote about him a few years ago here. He lived among the poor, responded to their needs, and died after getting a hospital built. And he did it with great austerity. His body was brought back to be buried in Iowa. His personal belongs fit into a cigar box.

I am far from that but he and many other missionaries, such as Blessed Stanley Rother and Blessed Tulio Marruzo, ofm, inspire me and encourage me to deepen my commitment to mission.

And so, today is a special mission Sunday for me, a time to recommit myself to the mission we all have as missionary disciples. For, as Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel/Evangelii Gaudium (120):
"In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19)."