Thursday, November 15, 2018

A deacon at Romero's canonization

Last month Padre German Navarro, my pastor and I went to Rome for the canonization of Monseñor Romero and others. Padre German has a very deep devotion to Saint Óscar Romero.

Through the help of a friend in Rome I found out a way to get a ticket for him to concelebrate and mentioned in the e-mail that I was a deacon. I got a message back in Italian that told me to go on the Saturday morning before the canonization to the Vatican liturgy office to get the tickets. I went and stood in line for two hours.

On Sunday morning, we lined up to get in. One of the providential moments while waiting was seeing Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the Argentinian human rights advocate, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and director for some years of SERPAJ, Servicio Paz y Justicia. I had met him when he was on a speaking tour in Iowa.

with Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
But Padre German and I waited a few minutes longer before going through security.

When we entered St. Peter’s square, I tried to follow him but was ushered to another site, inside St. Peter’s Basilica. In the chapel which holds the tomb of Saint John Chrysostom, there were close to a hundred deacons. A few were young transitional deacons but I saw a large groups of older men.

Permanent deacons from the diocese of Brescia
There were about thirty from Brescia, the diocese in which Pope Paul VI grew up and where he was ordained. Interestingly, Pope Paul VI was responsible for implementing the recommendation of the Second Vatican Council to restore the diaconate as a permanent order and allow the ordination of married men. (Pope Paul VI released a motu propio to restore the permanent diaconate on June 18, 1967.)

We vested but didn’t use our own stoles. We were given identical stoles, which were priestly stoles that we wore in the diaconal style with the help of a safety pin.

We were told, in Italian, that we would distribute the consecrated bread and wine to the priests. I couldn’t understand the details of how we would do this but decided that “watch and follow” might work. It did.

We were escorted to sit in chairs by the colonnades of St. Peter’s to the left of the Pope’s throne.

At the offertory we were given a ciborium and a chalice with wine and went to stand to the right of the pope at the altar. There we stood as the pope, bishops, and priests recited the words of consecration. For me it was a moving experience, realizing that what I held in my hands was transformed from mere bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood. It was a humbling experience.

We were led to where the thousand or so priests were sitting and held the sacred vessels while the priests took the Body and Blood of Christ, most receiving by intinction.

After we were finished, we were directed inside St. Peter’s Basilica to receive communion and to put the chalices and ciboria in the Blessed Sacrament chapel.

Afterwards, we went out for the end of Mass. While waiting to leave, I got this picture of Pope Francis.

What did we deacons do at the Mass?

I thought we just had a good spot to participate in the Mass, but we had work to do – to serve. Which is what we’re here for.

And it was a privilege to serve at the Mass for the canonization of seven holy people, including Monseñor Romero, Pope Paul VI, Mother Nazaria who worked in South America, and Nunzio Sulprizio, a nineteen-year old Italian.

His story touched me. Orphaned at an early age, he was taken in by an uncle who worked him hard and mistreated him. When Saint Nunzio got ill, his uncle turned him out of the house. Another uncle took him in and arranged a way for him to get medical care. Dying, he assisted other sick and maintained a deep sense of God's presence.

He is a good saint for many young people here - orphaned or left with a single mother, hardworking, mistreated, ill, but keeping faith. I need to learn more about him. 

We deacons sat under his banner - maybe that's another message for me as I continue to try to serve here in Honduras.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Mexican widow's mite and the US rich man

A homily I won’t give, since I’m not in the US, and which I probably wouldn’t give – since it would probably raise a ruckus. (But then, a Bishop of Rome named Francis urged youth to raise a ruckus.)

Tomorrow's Gospel (Mark 12: 38-44) reads:

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Jesus sat down on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico and observed how the nations reacted to the caravan of refugees travelling through Mexico toward the US.

Many US politicians put lots of money into their coffers and planned to spend millions building a wall and sending military and other armed troops to the border. They also talked about withholding aid to the countries from which these people had come. (They had already cut assistance to the poor in the US and so this was not something unexpected.)

A poor Mexican also came by and with some friends spent all night making 700 tamales; another took the shoes off her feet and gave it to a Honduran woman walking barefoot and soon found other shoes to give to the people passing by. A poor church opened its doors and gave them a place to sleep. Others prepared meals and some nuns came and spent hours caring for the bodies of those who were walking, especially taking care of their feet. Other religious thumbed rides for the migrants.

Calling his disciples, Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, these poor Mexicans put in more than all the others. The others contributed pittances to the poor and put money into building a wall. But the poor have contributed what they have, their livelihood.”

The issues of the caravan are complex and no one I know of is calling for completely open borders. But when we close our eyes to the poor we are in danger of closing our hearts to God.

What should we do, as followers of Christ?

1. Open our churches to the migrants. If there are 7000 migrants, many in family groups, and there are more than 17,000 US Catholic parishes, each parish or groups of three parishes, could agree to take in a family or a few people.

2. Advocate that the US accept as refugees those fleeing violence and persecution – including those fleeing gangs and drug traffickers who threaten their lives and women and children fleeing domestic violence. The US could send 3000 immigration judges and 3000 public defenders to the border, instead of militarizing the border.

3. Advocate changes to US immigration law that open the way to temporary work visas, easily obtained. I think that people who want to work would gladly take advantage of this type of immigration.

4. Refuse to support regimes that oppress their people, such as Honduras which has received lots of military and police aid, when what is needed is sustainable development.

5. Pray for the people, open your hearts and pocketbooks to them in their need.

6. Refuse to denigrate anyone, to demonize anyone, to look down on anyone (whether they be migrants or US government officials.)

7. Open your heart to all the poor and needed – where you live and throughout the world. Love should have no boundaries.

8. Recognize the truth of these words of Pope Pius XII, in Exsul Familia Nazarethana, August 1, 1952:

"The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Whether they flee, “compelled by fear of persecution or by want,” they are children of God and deserve a hearing.

9. Will we let ourselves be moved by love or by fear?

USCCB image

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Exodus

I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land…
Exodus 3: 7-8

Up to this moment I have not commented personally in this blog on the caravan of Hondurans going through Mexico, seeking refuge in the United States. I have commented on Facebook, but I want to share a few thoughts on this blog.

First of all, I like what the Mexican bishops called it: “an exodus of liberation.” It is not a march. It is not an organized protest. It consists of people fleeing from harm, danger, poverty, violence – much as the people of Israel fled the oppression of Egypt.

Secondly, I see it as primarily a desperate measure, a survival tactic. People do not take a long journey, especially on foot, just for the fun of it – unless they are people with means seeking diversions. Most of these people are fleeing what I see around me and what I have heard about life in the cities.

But there is more.

In the last nine months I have been hearing of more and more people from our parish who are seeking to go to the US. People ask us to pray for their loved ones on the journey at Mass and sometimes they ask us to pray in thanksgiving to God for their safe arrival in the US.

I have spoken with a young man who tried to go but was caught and sent back. He left because of family debts but, after his experience in a US detention center, has no desire to try to go back.

One day a 15-year old boy dropped by. At first I thought he wanted to cut the weeds around the house but it soon became apparent that he wanted to talk about going to the US. I tried to talk him out of it, but a few weeks later I noted that he was no longer here. He had gone to the US. He was picked up and is being held by US immigration.

Why this sudden rise in the number of people leaving?

There are the ongoing concerns about escaping a situation where there are very jobs, especially for the young and especially if you don’t want to sell your soul for a job with the ruling political party. There is the violence in the cities and some areas, mostly due to gangs and drug-traffickers. There is the violence in the countryside – some due to abuse of alcohol and drugs, but much of the violence is due to impunity, the lack of a judicial system that responds to crime and violence and that is not corrupt. Sadly, some people turn to violence to revenge deaths and injuries when there is no legal recourse. Then there is domestic violence – all too common.

These and other factors lead to people leaving their families and their homes.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the roots of the current crises in Honduras are in US policy – from its using Honduras as an “aircraft carrier” in support of the Contras against Nicaragua and in support of the murderous Salvadoran government of the 1980s to its support of the 2009 coup and the 2016 elections. These actions helped further destabilize the country. Other interventions – political, economic, and military – which began in the 1800s are further factors that continue to hamper efforts for integral development and true democracy.

But why the recent surge in our area? It did not make sense until I read an article that noted climate change as a factor.

This past year has been hot and dry. Some basic grain harvests have been poor. But even more the prices of fuel and of fertilizer and insecticides has gone up. With decreased harvests this means that people go into debt. And so they seek a way out – literally.

But why the caravans?

First of all, it is dangerous to go through Mexico – not only because of the presence of cartels and gangs. I have heard of people injured and killed, falling off the train, La Bestia, as they seek a quicker way to go through Mexico. And so, people began to seek ways of going together, for safety.

Secondly, if you hire someone to take you, often called a coyote, it’s expensive. The figure I’ve heard most often is $7,000. Some coyotes offer to accompany the person for three attempts. But that’s risky. Even more it’s expensive. People will take out loans to finance the trip – putting up their homes and lands as security. And there is no assurance that they will get to the US or get a job there to pay off the land.

And so people began to think that it might be good to get together in groups and go together. It seems that the first groups, organized through Facebook and other media, began in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where there is much crime and violence. Groups came together and some people began to help the groups join up. The rest is history.

This is not an organized movement, but one which spread from the grassroots, out of desperation. The caravan – or better, the exodus – is a sign of the cry of the people, whose voice is heard by God but whose desperation is so often ignored by those with power and money.

What do the people want?

It's simple: Safety, security, a decent life for their families.

This morning a read a quote from a 1952 statement of Pope Pius XII:

"The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil."

Though the exodus is the result of desperation, it can also be a sign of hope.

First of all, it has made apparent to the world the oppression, the violence, the suffering that the people of Honduras undergo daily. Making this visible is important.

Secondly, the solidarity of the poor in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico has been extraordinary. While some speak of sending soldiers to borders, women stay up all night to make 700 tamales to feed those passing through; religious sisters who care for people with AIDS come and offer medical assistance to the people and try to flag down trucks to get the people rides; churches open their doors so that people have a dry and safe place to sleep.

What to do?

Open the doors of the heart.

Change the US policies on immigration to facilitate asylum for people who flee violence and to provide more opportunities for temporary work for migrants.

But what about these 7500 or so people in Exodus? What should be done when they reach the border?

While in Ames, Iowa, a woman mentioned that maybe the church should sponsor a family. She was probably motivated to say this because of the experience of Iowa when its Republican governor offered to take in South East Asian refugees.

Inspired by this I proposed on Facebook, that each Catholic parish (and there are more than 17,000) open up its doors and agree to sponsor a family. That would definitely be a start.

There is much more to say, but these are my initial thoughts that I wanted to share before I go to a four-day diocesan meeting.

I’d like to close with this prayer from a 2007 pastoral letter of Tulsa, Oklahoma, bishop Edward Slattery:

Oh Mary, our Queen,
in this time of uncertainty and fear,
we ask you to hear the cries of the frightened
and console the lost and the lonely.
Show yourself to be our mother
and protect those families who have placed themselves
under the mantle of your mercy.
Change our hearts that we might seek always
the justice and peace promised to those who hope
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Pray for us, Oh Holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ

Let us pray:
Oh Father of Mercy, Your only begotten Son suffered the threats of Herod and
the pain of exile though just a child. Grant, we beseech you, courage and hope
to immigrant families who sojourn in a land not their own and preserve them
from every injustice. By your grace may we live in this world, so as to give
witness that our citizenship is in heaven and our native home is the Kingdom
of your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever
and ever. Amen.