Saturday, November 19, 2022

HONDURAN CAMPESINOS, RETIRED FRANCISCAN SISTERS, CLARENCE JORDAN, AND THE PALM SUNDAY MULE

Tomorrow is the feast of Christ the King, but I’ve had the Gospel story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on my mind.

Palm Sunday 2015

Part of my ministry in the parish is training of catechists.

A few years ago, I did each training session in each of the four zones of the parish. Five years ago, I did the first of the sessions in the mountain village of Delicias Concepción. An account of that experience can also be found here.

Because many catechists and pastoral workers have been taught scripture in very limited ways, I often try different ways of reading and praying scripture. They are used to looking for moral guidance in the readings or doctrinal affirmations or literal accounts.

Often I try the imaginative contemplative reading in the style of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. I read the passage one or more times, leaving time for quiet. I urge the catechists to try to put themselves in the narrative and pay attention to their senses – what they hear, see, small, taste, feel physically as well as how they feel emotionally. Then, after some time of quiet, I ask them to share with one or two others. Afterwards I invite several to share their experience.

That day I used the Palm Sunday accounts, reading the Gospel three times (each time from a different evangelist).

When I asked some to share, one young man noted that he had been afraid for Jesus. Jesus was going to sit on a mule that had never been mounted before. As a campesino, he knew what usually happens: the animal bolts and the person ends up on the ground. But when this did not happen to Jesus, he was relieved.

I never had heard such a reading and continue to be amazed at the wisdom of this young man and the implications this has on our understanding of Jesus. (I’ll get to this later.)

A few months later, I was in Iowa and was asked to give a presentation for the retired sisters at the motherhouse of the Dubuque Franciscans, several of whom I have known from their ministry in El Salvador and in Honduras.

At the end of my presentation, which was pretty grim, given the situation of Honduras at that time, one sister asked me if there was anything that gives me hope. I immediately thought of this bible reading and shared the story.

When I got to the point of the young man’s concern for Jesus’s safety with the untamed donkey, I heard chuckles throughout the room. Probably most of the women in that room had been raised on Iowa farms and knew what happens when you try to sit on an untamed beast.

A retired priest who is a published biblical scholar and former professor at Loras College was in the room, since he serves the sisters. I asked him if he ever heard any scholarly note of this. He hadn’t.

But this past week, I found one Baptist biblical scholar who did. Clarence Jordan, the founder with his wife and others of Koinonia Farms in Georgia, had degrees in Agriculture and theology. He did Cotton Patch translations of the Gospels, placing Jesus in Georgia. 

Koinonia Farms is an interracial community that has sought to live the Gospel in a unique way and has suffered for their witness. 

 Last week, I finished reading a book of selections of his writings published by Plough Publishing, an arm of the Bruderhof, The Inconvenient Gospel: A Southern Prophet Tackles War, Wealth, Race, and Religion, edited by Frederick L. Downing.

The book is a delight and inspiring. But the real surprise was his chapter “Jesus, Leader of the Poor.” In it, he retells the Palm Sunday event as a great demonstration:
So he gathered together a great crowd of these poor people and then told his disciples he was going to lead the demonstration. He said, “I need something to ride on.” Now, this is interesting! Anyone who is going to enter the city as the king usually gets himself a big, white Arabian steed. We would expect Jesus to say, “You all go up to Tyre or Nineveh and get me one of those fine Arabian stallions – I want to do this thing up right!” But do you know what he said to his disciples? “I want you to go into the village there and get me a mule.” And he said, “I want you to get me one on which no one has ever sat” (Mark 11:2). Now Jesus must have been a real man to ask for that kind of mule! I tried once to sit on “a mule whereon no man had ever sat” and when I got through with him he was still “a mule whereon no man had ever sat!” But Jesus could ride that mule. The mule was the symbol of the lowly, the working classes, the toiling people.
Raised on a farm, living on a farm, he knew what happens when you try to sit on “a mule whereon no man had ever sat.”

The Honduran campesinos, the retired Franciscan sisters, and a Baptist preacher got what almost no scripture scholar had ever noticed. I am floored! 

But, as I reflect on the Palm Sunday story, I begin to see that what Jesus did that day was not just announce the coming of the Reign of God; he lived it and made it real.

In the Reign of God, there is peace and harmony in the world. The Reign of God is a restoration of the harmony in the Garden of Eden. The Reign of God is the prophecy of the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah 11 made real. The Reign of God is the way that Jesus was "with the wild beasts" in the desert (Mark 1).

The will of God is this peace and harmony.

Jesus makes this real and we are called to make it real.

But it is not brought about by arms and violence. Jesus enters Jerusalem, knowing that many were planning to kill him. But he enters unarmed, not on a war horse but on a donkey, a mule, an ass.

In his simplicity, in his vulnerability he saves us and shows us the way to live in the Reign of God, on earth as in heaven. 

 All this has been going through my mind as I prepared for our parish celebration of Christ the King tomorrow.

Christ the King, November 2015

A few weeks ago, Father German noted how the image of Christ the King central to the understanding of most people is that of a dominating ruler, whose word is law. Instead, he noted, we must look to Christ the servant. We’ll try to offer a different vision tomorrow.

I will give the opening marks for our procession before Mass, centered on Christ the Servant King, who brings victory by his service, his commitment even to the cross, and his love. You can read my draft in Spanish here. I hope I have time to translate it.

But above all, I pray that this message of the servant king, who enters the city on a mule, and shows us the Reign of God, a reign of justice love and peace, will transform all of our hearts, here in the parish and in the world – especially in the Church.

As I prepared for Christ the King Sunday, I came across this quotation from the address to the Bishops of Mexico on February 13, 2006:
Above all, la Virgen Morenita teaches us that the only power capable of conquering the hearts of men and women is the tenderness of God. That which delights and attracts, that which humbles and overcomes, that which opens and unleashes, is not the power of instruments or the force of law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of its gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of its mercy.
May “the omnipotent weakness of divine love” empower us to be instruments of our servant King in this world in so need of love and justice.


Thursday, November 17, 2022

A different type of medical brigade

Last Saturday, a medical group, AMIGAS, arrived in force to do three medical brigades here. They have been coming here for several years. 

I have my reservations about many medical groups who come to Honduras to do a quick “Gringo doctors will heal you” with a single visit. 

But this group is different. First of all, they return to the same municipalities each year. )This year they also spent a day near la Lima, on the coast, since they have connections there and there was a community very devastated by the rains this year.)

 They came to our area for the first time at least six years ago and they come once or twice a year (although they were not here in 2020, due to the pandemic.) Thus, they get to know a bit about the area and its specific problems and also get to know and support the local public health people. They are also great in interacting with local people.
I have accompanied them for several years, often translating for the doctors who don’t speak Spanish. I also end up being the extra vehicle to help get them to the distant sites. 

They do not stay in hotels. This year, they stayed in the parish center which worked out rather well for them, mostly in terms of having sufficient space to prepare the medicine for their rural visits. 

 This year they went to three locations: the municipal center of Concepción, the village of El Limón, and the mountain village of Delicias Concepión. They probably saw around 1000 people. 

This year I didn’t do much translating. They have some adolescents from a Santa Rosa bilingual school who regularly come and help.
But this year there was something that I found very encouraging. 

In Delicias, I was helping get people in line to see the doctors. At one point, I looked up and saw the doctors and nurses. Five of them were Hondurans. The other four service providers were from the US.
This is not a “gringo” brigade, although funded and led from the US. 

Interesting the directors are a US doctor from Missouri (I think) and a Honduran Sister of Mercy who does her ministry in Missouri. I wonder if the people realized this. 

The presence of Honduran medical volunteers is a very subtle way of trying to avoid the danger of the brigades undermining Honduran health personnel. 

This blogpost is somewhat sketchy since I am tried and need more sleep, but I am grateful that I could accompany them. (I even took six of them to the Copán Mayan ruins on their day off.) 

They were also a group filled with a lot of energy.
I look forward to their future visits and am very grateful for their commitment to serve the poor

Sunday, October 30, 2022

SERVANT MINISTRY

Introductory note: I wanted to share two events that happened in the past few days. After I finished, I realized that they have to do with trying to be a servant, being images of Christ the Servant to the world. 
 Friday we had another training for Delegates of the Word, those who lead Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest so that people can come together and worship. There were about ninety participants. 

During the first part of the morning Padre German led the group in the retreat in the training manual for delegates. 

After a break, I went aside with about eighteen women and men aspiring to become delegates. I am very encouraged that almost all are young. We need new blood in this important ministry. 

Padre German asked me to work with them on basic church teaching and to start with examining them. Being a rebel, I decided to do the exam differently. They divided into groups. I asked a question which they were supposed to answer in the group and then we’d discuss it. This broke down when people began to just shout out a response and then we discussed the response.

But Padre German had the more difficult task with the delegates, some of whom have served for more than twenty-five years. 

 About a week ago the shared with me a concern about our annual celebration of Christ the King.

The tradition here is to get the whole parish together for Mass, often preceded by music and presentations, at times with a procession. The feast of Christ the King is also the day to honor the Delegates of the Word.

Father was concerned that we give an image of Christ as a king, who lords it over others, dominates, has the last word, and is the supreme leader.

I too share this concern. When I discuss our baptism into Christ - Prophet, Priest, and King, I almost always say King/Servant. 

A problem is that emphasizing this image  of a worldly king on the Day of the Delegate of the Word may give the message that the delegate is to be the one who makes the decisions. I have even heard of a delegate who said something to the effect that the pastor rules in the parish, but he’s there; I rule here. 

And some think clericalism is just something that has to do with priests. Clericalism runs deep in a patriarchal society and the notion of a privileged caste in the institutional church.

Don’t get me started. But, if you want to read more, I highly recommend Clericalism: The Death of Priesthood, by George B. Wilson, S.J.

Anyway, Padre German spent time trying to elicit from the delegates another way of looking at Christ the King – gentle, suffering, servant, humble.

We’ll be trying to emphasize these images for the feast. 


Today, Sunday, I was supposed to pick up a group of people from Ames, Iowa, connected with the group importing coffee from an association in our parish. They are also connected with our sister parish, Saint Thomas Aquinas in Ames. 

 I was late leaving home for the airport (three and a half hours away) when I got a WhatsApp message that they had only twenty minutes to get to their second flight because of delays due to fog.

A few minutes later, there was another message – they had to rebook their flight.

So, I stayed in Plan Grande.

Tomorrow I’ll pick them up and be with them until next Sunday. 

In the meantime, this morning, the pastor had called me to ask if I could assist at a funeral this afternoon.

I finally tracked down the people concerned and went for the two o’clock funeral.

I wasn’t as prepared as I usually want to be. I almost forget the books and my vestments and when I arrived there I realized I had only green vestments – for hope, as I explained to the people gathered at the family home. 

 The house was poor and up a path where only motorcycles could enter.

The woman who died, whose husband had died two years ago, was in her seventies. They had twelve children, only two of them women. Most were there, together with lots of kids and friends. 

I was moved by the presence of kids around the table we used for an altar, just outside the tiny room where the coffin was. They were attentive as I put on my vestments, as I explained to them a little of what they meant. 

The Celebration went well, and God provided me with what seemed like the right words. People seemed attentive. 

I was also surprised and grateful that so many came forward for communion. 

At the end of the celebration, I asked the adult children to come into the house for the final rites of sending – saying goodbye. La despedida. 

Then they carried the coffin to a pick up to begin the procession to the cemetery.
What a privilege to be able to share with these people, to offer them a few words which I hope will give them courage and consolation. This gives me joy. 

Just a last note. People usually give the priest who comes for a Mass a donation to cover fuel. They ask me and I try to decline. But today one of the sons insisted on handing me a two hundred lempira note, which, I told him, I will put into the parish solidarity fund for the poor. He insisted. How can I refuse?

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Worker priests, deacons, and the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

Today is the anniversary of the death of Pere Henri Perrin, the worker priest, born in 1914, who died on October 25, 1954.
The worker-priest movement arose to respond to what many in France and other parts of Western Europe saw as the failure of the Church to reach the working class. Priests left the rectories and worked in factories and other industries.

The priest-worker movement was especially strong in France, responding to the sense that France was not really “Christian,” and that the Gospel seemed irrelevant to the concerns of the working class. The movement was suppressed by the Vatican, partly because the priests got involved in all aspects of their work, including unions. Since many of the unions were dominated by the Communist Party, their involvement in the unions, even elected as union officials, was a “red” flag, literally and figuratively. 

I believe that the Vatican’s decision was sort-sighted and blinded by the virulent anti-Communism of the 1950s (and beyond.)

Though the movement was officially ended, the immersion of priests as well as women religious and lay missionaries, in the daily lives of the poor, living among them, has continued to nurture the real missionary dimension of faith, especially in parts of Latin America. 

About the same time, faithful in the German Church were pushing for the diaconate as a permanent state.  

There had been discussions since the nineteenth century, but one of the most profound discussions happened in the priests' barracks in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

The priests there pondered the tragedy, the scandal, of a church that had not been ready to respond to Hitler. They wondered if the institutional church needed the input of people who were involved in the daily life of the people, in the offices, streets, and factories. 

The notes of one of the imprisoned priests, Father Wilhelm Schamoni, are pointed:
3. The preaching of these deacons, who would be involved in the work-a-day world, would be particularly persuasive and down-to-earth. One perceives in current preaching that it is being done by individuals who are “segregate a populo” [“separated from the people”]. 
4. The Church has largely become a Church of authorities and officials. The feudal state and the civil servant state have rubbed off on her. The diaconate would be an effective means to return Holy Mother the Church to a Church of the people. 
5. The Church has not succeeded in holding its ground among either the leading intellectual classes nor among those classes most easily led astray, the proletariat. In their own milieu, deacons from these classes for these classes could gain influence incomparably deeper than could any priest, since priests would never develop within this milieu the kind of rapport that deacons would have already established. One could develop the diaconate into a means to win back the de-Christianized milieu. An intelligent deacon from the working-class would, without any special theological training, be able to touch the heart of his worker colleagues with just the right words.
After World War II, several of these priests wrote and discussed the diaconate as a permanent state of life. Their work, the work of theologians such as Karl Rahner, and various movements, especially in Germany, paved the way for the diaconate as a permanent state as approved at the Second Vatican Council.

Another movement to be leaven in the everyday world was the formation of the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus by René Voillaume and Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus to be a presence among the poor and outcast.

Their first field of presence was among the Muslims in Algeria, following their inspiration by Little Brother Saint Charles de Foucauld. But now their field of mission is among the poor and marginalized. They work and live among the people, witnessed to Christ by their prayer and their daily presence.

All these three movements, in my mind, rose from a concern to be present to those who might not be part of the church community.

The witness of the worker priests and the Little Brothers and Sisters as well as the testimony of Saint Charles de Foucauld mark my understanding of the diaconate. My ordination stole bears the heart and cross of Saint Charles.


Today, remembering Père Henri Perrin, I remember the witness of priest workers as well as many women and men religious who immerse themselves in the lives of the poor, especially the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus. 

Reflecting on their commitment with the poor and marginalized, I believe that the diaconate should always include some sort of physical presence with those on the margins of society, especially the impoverished.

We are called to reach out to those who might not come to the doors of the church. The call of Pope Francis to go out and encounter those in the margins, central to Evangelii Gaudium and found throughout his teaching, should be central to our diaconate. 

 --- 

 Some photos of me in action as a deacon.
Picking coffee in the parish coffee field
Getting help in directions from a campesino
Helping change the flat tire of the pastor's car
Incensing the faithful at Mass
Baptizing a child in San Agustín


Saturday, October 22, 2022

A long-overdue update on the Dulce Nombre parish

It´s been a long time since I wrote about my daily life. I have been slowing down a bit - partly I'm getting older (75), partly torrential rains and a hurricane, partly a bit of laziness.

The past few months we have experienced a lot of rain, much more than usual. The ground is saturated and the rains have been heavy. In September we had very few days without rain – and not light rains but strong, extended downpours, often with strong winds.
Houses have been damaged, roads have been washed away, parts of bridges have fallen. As a result, communities have been isolated, busses have stopped running for a few days. Life is precarious. 

Here´s the experience in one part of the parish, near El Limón. 

On July 24, part of the ramp up to the bridge.
It was repaired, but even more of the ramp was washed away about August 17.
But the rains were so intense that the river washed away half of the road on the way to Vega Redonda. Another bridge suffered intense damage, wiping out a large concrete block of the bridge.
The roads in the parish have been a challenge. 

There are a few places that are inaccessible and others where you must find a different route. A few times I have had to negotiate really muddy roads, Thanks be to God and a generous gift, I have a good four wheel drive pickup.
Last Sunday began our week of missions. Twenty-five parishioners went out to various communities to visit people in their homes. 

I was asked to take two to a distant village, San Marcos Pavas. Normally you can go there directly, but there was a landslide that wiped out a road and prevented access. So I had to take an alternative route that was much longer. 

But when I go to the place where a bridge crosses the river and usually provides access to both Las Pavas and Bañaderos, I found the area devastated. The road to Bañaderos was cut off and I had to negotiate over narrow paths to get to Las Pavas. 

Here are a few photos.
Here's a photo of the two missionaries with a woman from Las Pavas who was arranging their visit.


We, as a parish, have been trying to help and accompany the persons. 

While I was away for a short visit to our sister parish in Ames, the pastor visited a number of communities, including one where people had to abandon their homes and others were in danger.

We have a parish solidarity fund that has been used to help subsidize people medical exams and prescriptions.

We have also used it to help people rebuild their homes or make repairs. I went out a few times.
There were a few donations of clothes. Thanks be to God, the clothing was good and appropriate for our people. (The last time clothing came, the quality was poor and much of the clothing was XL – with pants large enough for three Hondurans. 

Some communities also donated food stuffs, including one that has suffered from the storms. 

I also learned of several communities where there was a need for mattresses. So I bought some in Santa Rosa.

I went out to a few communities with food, mattresses, and clothing. In one community, even the kids helped in the distribution of supplies.
While in Mar Azul, I visited a ninety-four year old woman who was dying. I prayed with her and the family. Although she couldn’t speak and the family thought she was not conscious, she was responding with her eyes and even with a gentle touch when I took her hand. She had not received communion for a while, partly because she couldn’t easily swallow. I asked the family if she had been anointed. She hadn’t. I told them I’d mentioned this to the pastor. 

Padre German went out a day or two later, which was good since she died just af ew days ago. 

This week we had a group come out to weed the parish coffee field. Twenty-five came, including about 16 young people. I went and picked them up some of them in one community.
There was a horse grazing near the coffee field. Two guys decided to give it stylish braids!
I didn’t take them back to their communities since I had planned to visit a priest friend of mine who is the priest for Amigos de Jesús which serves about 130 children from difficult living situations.

The trip was filled with surprises. The international highway had suffered from the rains.
There was even a new road sign – “Geological fault.”
In addition, the road into Amigos had been cut off for a short time; part of the road being washed away by a river. A new road was carved out a little above the washout.
I was at Amigos de Jesús less than 48 hours, but it was a time to catch up with Padre Pato, serve as deacon at Mass twice (preaching once), relax, pray, and read. It was good for me. I want to return sometime next year.
I left Thursday morning, since I had agreed to a Celebration of the Word with Communion for the end of a novenario in San Antonio El Alto for Don Efraín.

 The novenario is a beautiful tradition here after a death. People meet, usually in the home of the deceased, for nine days. People come and pray and be with the mourning family. What a great way to say goodbye to a loved one and to mourn in community.

Often the family asks for a Mass on the ninth day. The pastor was not available and so they asked me. I was most happy to go since I had brought Communion to Don Efraín and his wife several times. I drove part of the way and parked the car up from the house and walked the rest.
A good crowd was there from many villages, since family members and friends often come from afar.
For me, it is privilege to be able to be present and bring the consolation of the Church.

Friday, I had a training for new catechists. Because of the weather we didn’t have as many as I had hoped. But I did an extended catequesis on the Bible. 

Today, Saturday, I'm working at home: cleaning the house, rearranging drawers, washing some clothing (and hope it dries in three days), writing this blog, preparing for Sunday's homily.

Tomorrow, we will welcome the missionaries back with a 10:00 am in the main church in Dulce Nombre.

One last thought. About a month or two ago, after visiting a family in their home, I thought about my ministry and my vocation. I realized that I need to make a regular examination of my life, asking "When was the last time I was in the home of a poor family?" 

 Here's a picture of the home of a family we helped with clothes and food.