Monday, November 29, 2021

More glimpses of hope in Honduras

Advent is a time for hope – a time to recall a God who makes rough ways smooth and opens a path in the wilderness.


On the first Sunday of Advent this year, Honduras held elections for president, congress, and mayors.

There were concerns and there were even rumors that there would be a toque de queda – a curfew – on Monday or even for a week or two. Even last night, after the polls were closed, there was a rumor that the electricity would be shut off nationwide at 8:30 pm. These notices seem to have been part of a campaign to sow fear among the people.

But things went surprisingly well and peaceful. Yes, there were irregularities throughout the country, including closing voting stations when there were people waiting to vote. I have heard reports of a candidate offering voters 3 thousand lempiras (about $130) for their ids so they wouldn’t vote.

But I observed something different. 

The voting place here in Plan Grande was in the school right next to the church and close to my house.

I left in the morning for a celebration in a nearby mountain village and there were crowds waiting to vote. 


When I returned later in the morning there were still people waiting to vote. 


I left for a 2 pm Mass in San Agustín and when I got back about 5 pm, all was calm since voting had finished. Then they began counting the ballots.

I went out a few times to see what was happening.

The ballots were being counted in two classrooms – since there were two voting places – urnas - in the school. People were outside the classrooms looking in.

All was calm, with kids running around (and some stopping by my house asking for candy.) One kid and his friends even planted a flower that had been left by my door. 


The results began to come in. The four municipalities in our parish area have been controlled by the National Party, which has also controlled the presidency for twelve years. And so I was surprised when they told me that Xiomara Castor, the LIBRE party candidate had won the presidential vote– not only here but in most of the municipality. 

Though an alternative candidate for the mayor's race won by a slim majority in Plan Grande, the National Party candidate won in the municipality of Concepción, where I live. But he had defeated the incumbent mayor (whose family had controlled the city hall for years).

What surprised me, and a few people I talked with, is that here and in other parts of the parish and the country many people did not vote a straight ticket. They voted for persons, not parties. (in some places, however, people did vote “straight ticket – called “votar en plancha”- but for LIBRE, the opposition party that arose after the 2009 presidential coup. This is extremely significant for Honduras, where party loyalty has ruled for over a century, resulting in what was a closed two-party system. Locally, the majority voted for the LIBRE candidate for president and the National Party candidate for mayor.

Another surprise is that some towns very tied in the past to the National Party went for Xiomara Castro, the LIBRE presidential candidate.

But a very big surprise is that a young man I know and who had been active in the church was elected mayor of the municipality of Dolores, overthrowing the incumbent mayor, a member of the National Party  who had held city hall there for several terms. 

I haven’t seen the full results but Xiomara Castor is the present-elect, the Congress will probably have a LIBRE majority.

The two largest cities, the capital Tegucigalpa and the industrial center San Pedro Sula, have elected mayors from the LIBRE party. 

The people are fed up with the incompetence and the corruption they have seen in the rule of the National Party or other entrenched candidates, especially at the national level. 

The voters also showed a political savvy and political maturity that I was glad to see. 

What will happen next is critical. There is need for national reconciliation – which means looking for the good of all the people of Honduras but also bringing to justice those who have violated the trust of the people with corruption, incompetence, bribes, and connections with drug-trafficking and organized crime.

But last night’s speech by the president-elect was hopeful and offers a challenge. She began saying that she has no enemies. In fact, she called for dialogue with the opposition. But her priorities are clear:
We are going to build a new era, we are going to build together a new history for the Honduran people. Out with war, out with the hatred, out with the death squads, out with corruption, out with drug trafficking and organized crime, out with the zedes. No more poverty.
The path ahead will not be easy – but I have hope, since it appears that many people are beginning to think and act differently. The task may be to help people realize democracy in their lives and in the country – recognizing that though elections are important, they are, as Salvador Monsignor Ricardo Urioste used to say, only a note in the symphony of democracy.

Perhaps part of our social ministry is to help people mature and recognize how they can contribute to the common good. As Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti, 162:
“…political systems must keep working to structure society in such a way that everyone has a chance to contribute his or her own talents and efforts.”
Perhaps this is the time to carefully study that encyclical and its call for justice, political love, and reconciliation.

To close with what may seem rather far-fetched, I would suggest this is the moment for tenderness, meditating on these words of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti, 94:
“Politics too must make room for a tender love of others. ‘What is tenderness? It is love that draws near and becomes real. A movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands… Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.’ Amid the daily concerns of political life, ‘the smallest, the weakest, the poorest should touch our hearts: indeed, they have a “right” to appeal to our heart and soul. They are our brothers and sisters, and as such we must love and care for them’.”
That would be a way to make hope real.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Hope in times of trouble

“Hope is always just about to turn into despair, but never does so; for at the moment of supreme crisis, God’s power is suddenly made perfect in our weakness. So we learn to expect His mercy most calmly when all is most dangerous, to seek Him quietly in the face of danger, certain that He cannot fail us....”
 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island 

In the midst of the pain, the suffering, the violence, the neglect of the poor, the corruption and governmental incompetence, I have seen signs of hope. I want to share a few of them. 

CHRIST THE KING

Though I have concerns about the possible health consequences of a large gathering, I could not help but rejoice at the more than 800 people who showed up for the parish’s Christ the King celebration yesterday – even though we did not do as much promotion as in previous before the pandemic.
What struck me was the hidden work of preparation of the place where we gathered (a new auditorium where we used to have a poorly used soccer field). Some women got up at 5 am to get to the parish to make tortillas and freshly squeezed orange juice. There were also the women (from Plan Grande) who prepared enough rice with chicken and brought it.
PARISH COFFEE FIELD
On November 1, parishioners from several parts of the parish came out to do the first harvest of coffee, as well as to do some weeding. They worked really efficiently and had everything done by early afternoon. (In contrast, last year it took almost three days.)
BAPTISMS

The day before the celebration, after the parish council meeting, I told the pastor that I was available if he needed anything. 

He had scheduled nine baptisms in a rural village, El Limón, but had many responsibilities to prepare for the feast day Mass. So he sent me – for nine baptisms of children under seven years. The small church was packed. 

As I began the baptisms (which were celebrated within a Celebration of the Word with Communion), I noticed that the parents and godparents were very responsive. At times I can hardly hear the godparents and parents, but here they were responding loud and clear. There were are few kids about five years old who were very responsive – when we have the parents and sponsors raise their right hands during the profession of faith, the kids also raised theirs.

There are 18 baptisms next Saturday in Plan Grande where I live. I hope they are as responsive.

HONDURAS AMIGAS 

Amigas is a Missouri-based medical group that has been coming to our area for many years. Because of the pandemic they haven’t been here for two years but decided to make a short trip here. Before they came here, they attended people in La Lima, Cortes, which had been devastated a year ago by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. They visited two places during this visit but almost 1000 people were seen. They also left medicines for a local public health center. 




REBUILDING

People are still doing some rebuilding after last year’s hurricanes and for other reasons. 

The parish has a solidarity fund to help. The money comes from various sources, including some donations from our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa.

Perhaps I am a little too first-world, but our policy is to supplement what the family and the community can do. I ask that each community helps in some way with the needs of their own members; in this way I think the fund can help foster a sense of solidarity. Some communities are very good in this; some have established their own village or sector solidarity funds; others help by collections or fund-raising events; others help by volunteer labor on the houses.

This month we have helped two families – with cement, tin roofing, and other details.
ASAMBLEA ECLESIAL

Today the Latin American Church opens the Church Assembly in Mexico. There are about 1000 participants – only 100 in person, the rest by Zoom.

The Assembly was preceded by consultations – hearings – in dioceses throughout Latin America. In our diocese we had hearings in the parishes.

In our parish we held hearings in the sectors of the parish as well as with some other groups. They were analyzed and summarized. 

I had a role in compiling both the parish and diocesan summaries. It was fascinating to read what the people had said. I also tried to assure that the parish and diocesan summaries reflected what the people had said and were not “interpreted” by those compiling the results. It was good to hear in the diocesan assembly one of the priests saying that the summary reflected what he had heard in his parish!

DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY

Last week we had a three day diocesan assembly with clergy and representatives from the parishes of the diocese as well as from some movements. It went fairly well. Today, the diocesan pastoral council is meeting to produce a final document.

ELECTIONS

Next Sunday Hondurans will go to the polls to elect the president, the members of the national congress, and the mayors. It’s been a very conflictive campaign, including persons killed and wounded. There are also real concerns about possible irregularities and fraud. The last week or so, especially the last weekend, there have been noisy party assemblies and car caravans as a way to close the campaign. (There should be no public campaigning this week.)

I saw one mayoral candidate at the Christ the King Mass. I have known him for several years. I asked him if he was going to have an event to close the campaign. He said no – because of his concern that it might be dangerous. I think he may have even been offered funding for an event. I’m impressed.


UPCOMING

This Friday we’ll have another meeting of the catechists who are preparing people for confirmation, hopefully in February. We will have close to 500 confirmed. Because of health concerns, we will have the Masses in 6 or 7 places; the bishop also has asked that only parents and godparents be present. 

We will have the rite of entry into the catechumenate on Sunday, December 5, in the main church. There are about 44 preparing to be baptized at next year’s Easter Vigil. We usually have the rite on the first Sunday of Advent but. We’ve changed the date because of elections on that day.

PERSONAL

On a personal note, I’ll be having a Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters at their Gracias house. It will be a great joy to be with them. I still don’t know what I’ll bring – probably bread and/or cinnamon rolls.

We have had a good number of people migrate from our parish – and almost every Sunday we pray for people on the road. The pastor and I are very concerned, especially since we hear of kidnappings and other dangers the people face. Also, neither of us have really good information on what exactly is the US policy and what happens at the border.

I read about a border immersion in December organized by Maryknoll. I decided to go, in order to get a first-hand look at what is happening at the border. I’ll be with them in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez from December 8 to 15.

I’ll get back just in time for our parish assembly – and planning meeting on December 17-18.

The other news is that the pastor of our sister-parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, is planning to visit us in early January. 

Please keep us in your prayers.

I’ll be posting on these events as they happen.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Touching with hope

It has taken me some time to adapt to some aspects of the Catholic religious culture of Honduras. 

There are some things that I will probably never get used to – and a few with some good theological and pastoral reasons. But there is one that I first reacted to somewhat negatively but which I have begun to understand differently.
At times, after adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the priest walks through the assembly with the monstrance, the fireburst metal vessel which bears the consecrated host in the center. As he passes many reach out to touch the monstrance. 

My first reaction years ago was very mixed. I recognized the devotion to the Eucharistic presence of Jesus in the host, but I wondered whether it was almost a substitute for communion or just a type of magical piety.

But two years ago, on the feast of Christ the King, the pastor asked me to carry the monstrance through the crowd, halfway through the crowd. I wrote about it two years ago here.


This year the pastor had me carry the monstrance through the whole crowd. Again I was filled with emotion as young and old, men and women, children and young people, reached out to touch the monstrance. Again, I thought of the pain and suffering of the people reaching out for some healing. Then I thought of the Gospel story of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. She knew that there was something about this Jesus who was passing through. So, she reached out to touch the hem of His garment. And she was healed. (Mark 5: 25-34) The people who reached out are searching for the Presence of One in their midst who will take on their sufferings.
I could only respond humbly, aware of their great faith, looking around and stopping when I saw someone wishing to touch the monstrance, stooping when a little child reached out.
May Jesus heal us.

But the nation of Honduras needs to be healed and so we had someone read the recent statement on the coming elections by the Honduran Bishops. Here a short selection that I translated.
We ask the people to overcome sentiments of indifference, apathy, and skepticism, brought on by our deficient system of government and its institutions, and which result in absenteeism. 
We, the bishops of the Honduran Bishops Conference, make an urgent call for you to go and vote, with responsibility and liberty. Our country is living through momentous and significant times. Therefore, we urge you to give you vote to the best candidates, with the best personal, familiar, and social profile, who are honest candidates, responsible and sensitive to the needs of the people, who participate in good politics, in favor of life and the family. This is to say: elect those candidates who, like you, think in favor pf a better future for your children. 
If you discover that you have in your hands the potential to aid the good of our fatherland and change the ineffective and unproductive direction that we have as a nation, you will take into account that your vote is sacred and that you cannot give it to someone who does not deserve it. 
Honduras does not deserve you voting for those who want to destroy it and seek to gain the elections “as it happens” [a como dé lugar], including fraudulent and deceitful actions. Elect candidates who are not stained with corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking which have damaged the population so much. Be careful with the call of some candidates to “vote a straight ticket” [votar en plancha], which means renouncing the capability to elect conscientiously, as a fruit of a profound reflection. 
The electors should not be part of a fraud, for no reason at all and in no circumstance whatever, nor should they approve or consent to abuses of power, like the ones that happened in the last electoral processes: you have to live the electoral process as a true civic festival, during and after the elections. 
As Bishops and pastors, we feel obligated to make a call to the consciences of all citizens to be objective observers of the electoral process, in order to avoid any irregularity, and, if there are any, to know how to denounce them.

 

Friday, November 19, 2021

A new directory for US deacons; some initial reactions

As the only permanent deacon in my diocese and one of only four ordained in Honduras, I am always looking for inspiration and guidance in my diaconal ministry.

There is a fair amount of material written in English, mostly in the United States, that I find helpful, especially the writings of Deacons William Ditewig, Greg Kendra, Tim O’Donnell, and James Keating, as well as those of Bishop W. Shawn McKnight. The translations of articles and compilations of the Italian deacon Enzo Petrolino are very helpful.

There is some limited material available in Spanish. I am in the middle reading a magisterial work of a Dominican priest, José Gabriel Mesa Angulo, O.P., who has also led several on-line educational sessions, mostly through the Red Iberoamericana de Diáconos Permanentes, which has a Facebook page and a WhatsApp chat group. In addition, there is Servir en las periferias which has a webpage and a monthly digital publication.

So, when I heard that the US bishops had published a new edition of The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, I was anxious to read it.
I wasn’t disappointed. 

Below I will share some initial reactions to the document. 

Though most of the book deals with the processes of formation of the permanent deacon in a US perspective, the first two chapters provide short discussions of the “Doctrinal Understanding of the Diaconate” and “The Ministry and Life of Deacons.”

The directory weeks to provides a doctrinal and pastoral understanding of the deacon and his three-fold ministry of word, liturgy, and charity. Much of this is a review of what has been taught about the permanent diaconate during its more than fifty years of existence. But there are seven aspects of the directory which provide the basis for further discussion and study – as well as implementation. 

1) The baptismal roots of the diaconate

The diaconal vocation is rooted in the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. The sacrament is described in relation to the baptismal call to holiness.
In Baptism, each disciple received the universal call to holiness. In the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the deacon received a “new consecration” to God through which he is configured to Christ the Servant and sent opt serve God’s People. (258)
In particular, the deacon “should feel encouraged to foster closeness between the ordained ministry and lay activities, in common service to the Kingdom of God.” (31)

2) The deacon and the laity

The ministry of the deacon is intimately connected with the apostolate of all the people of God. In particular, citing Pope Saint John Paul II, the deacon’s tasks include that of ‘promoting and sustaining the apostolic activities of the laity’.” (31)

Deacons are “at the service of the People of God” (29), called to lead “the community to reflect on its communion and mission in Jesus Christ, especially impelling the community of believers to lead lives of service.” (34)

3) The importance of service, especially of the poor and suffering

Though the directory insists on the three-fold ministry of the deacon (word, liturgy, charity), there is an emphasis on the ministry to the poor. “The deacon is to cultivate an imagination that takes him to the heart of human need.” (90) And so the deacon has a special role:
In a world hungry and thirsty for convincing signs of the compassion and liberating love of God, the deacon sacramentalizes the mission of the Church in his words and deeds, responding to the Master’s command of service and providing real-life examples of how to carry it out. (40)
I was also very pleased to see the emphasis on study of Catholic social teaching and putting it into practice, not just seeing the deacon as one who does charitable works.

4) The deacon: bringing the needs of the suffering to the table of the Lord

Tim O’Donnell’s recent book, The Deacon: Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold, notes the connection between the church and the world and the deacon’s role. The directory, though using different language, points to the need to connect the sanctuary and the everyday world, especially the needs of the poor.
For the Church gathered at worship, moreover, the ministry of the deacon is a visible, grace-filled sign of the integral connection between sharing at the Lord’s eucharistic table and serving the many hungers felt so keenly by all God’s children.(35)
5) The deacon and the everyday world

Citing,Pope Saint John Paul II, the directory notes that
A deeply felt need in the decision to reestablish the permanent diaconate was and is that of a greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in the various spheres of the family work, school, etc. (31)
Thus, the directory continues:
The deacon, because of his familiarity with the day-to-day realities and rhythms of the family, neighborhood, and workplace, can relate the rich tradition of Catholic teaching to the practical problems experienced by people. (31)
In particular, the directory notes how this can witness to “the gospel value of sacrificial love” and make evident ‘the dignity of human work.” This offers “an opportunity and obligation for deacons in their secular professions to boldly proclaim and witness to the Gospel of life.” (31)

Therefore, “A good knowledge of [the social doctrine of the Church] will permit many deacons to mediate it in their different professions, at work, and in their families.” (260)

In a pointed remark, the directory notes that 
“The deacon is ordained precisely for service in both the sanctuary and the marketplace.” (64) 

6) Cultural sensitivity

The directory calls for formation of the deacons that opens them to cultural sensitivity, even suggesting that deacons might learn a second language to serve different communities in the diocese. 

7) Married and celibate deacons

Some celibate deacons have felt left out in some discussions of the diaconate. These include those who are ordained as celibates and those who are widowed.

On a personal note, I am a celibate deacon and have been trying to develop a spirituality of the celibate deacon. I am glad that our presence is being addressed (though I have never felt left out).

The directory acknowledges the presence of celibate and widowed deacons and offers a few suggestions in the formation and ongoing life of these men – including some initial remarks on the celibate deacon (75-77) and the widowed deacon (79-81).

These and other parts of the document can help us deepen an understanding of the different ways in which the diaconate is lived. 

Though the modern permanent diaconate is over fifty years old, I think we are still in our childhood or adolescence in developing our theology and spirituality. This document can help us in this endeavor to be servants of God and the People of God.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Potholes, elections, rains, and more

Yesterday I drove back from Quimistan to my home in Plan Grande, Concepción, Copán, on CA-4, the international highway that connects to San Pedro Sula and then, on another road, to the Honduran Caribbean port of Puerto Cortes. The road is a major route for goods from the port and San Pedro Sula to the Salvadoran and Guatemalan borders in the southwest.

The road is, to a great extent, a mess. There are a few good portions, notably from La Entrada to Santa Rosa de Copán. But the road south of Santa Rosa is a disaster, partly because of a major geological fault

The road to San Pedro Sula from Sula to La Flecha is another disaster. I have often traveled this road and I think it’s worse now than when it was really bad ten years ago. They did some repairs some years ago, but it’s really been neglected in the last two or more years.



I think the state of this road is a good metaphor for Honduras at this moment.

Honduras has potential – great coffee, hard-working and welcoming people, natural resources, archeological sites, beautiful mountains, and more. But how can the country go forward with massive insecurity with roads that are treacherous? How can Honduras go forward when many politicians have deep ties with organized crime and drug trafficking? 

We are in the last two weeks before the national elections, which are held every four years. The country will elect the president, the congress, and mayors. There are three major parties and there are serious questions about the presidential candidates of two parties and their connection with money-laundering, corruption, and drug-trafficking. There are serious questions about the fairness of the coming elections – not only because of anomalies in the election process voted on by Congress (which is controlled by one of the parties).

There have also been a number of cases of intimidation of candidates, and even worse. Some candidates have been killed and there have been cases of violence at some campaign rallies, including attacks in nearby San Jerónimo, Copán, where one person died and three were seriously injured. There have also been at least two candidates killed in other parts of our diocese. 

According to a new report, “Honduras' National Autonomous University Observatory of Violence reported that at least 64 people have been victims of political violence between December last year and October this year.”

In the municipality where I live there has not been any violence, but campaign banners have been slashed. Tensions are high.

On a national level, there are also some people and groups calling some opposition candidates and parties communist, attempting to spread fear and more in the population. 

Many doubt the elections on Sunday, November 28, will be fair and transparent, remembering certain irregularities in the last election.

November 28 is the first Sunday of Advent.

We’ll be having Masses and Celebrations of the Word throughout the parish, as usual. But there will be one change. Usually we have the rite of the entry of candidates for baptism (over 14 years old) into the catechumenate on the first Sunday of Advent. This year we’re transferring it to December 5.

To close this blog post on the same note as I started it, I have to write about the dirt roads in our parish. 

The persistent rains, accompanied by cooler temperatures and little sun, have left some roads extremely muddy and slippery. I am glad I have four wheel drive, or I would have gotten stuck a few times.



The causes for these problems are many, including, of course, failure of the government to maintain the roads. 

At this time of the year we often have several days with rain, throughout the day and night; with little sun and temperatures in the low sixties the roads don’t have much chance of drying out.

Since many of the roads are clay, they can become rather slippery. If the authorities have put down gravel, it is considerably less slippery. But there are some road with little or no gravel, some because it has been washed away, some because the gravel was spread out too thinly or was pushed to the side when a tractor was brought in to level the road or fill potholes or trenches. It can get to be quite a mess. In addition, the soil is not stable in some places and there has been at least one landslide in the parish that blocked a road between two villages in the mountains.

But Honduras is going to open a new international airport in the coming weeks at Palmerola (which was a US base for many years, particularly in the 1980s). And it has a military budget of 392 million US dollars (with no wars or threats of war on its borders.)

It is also a recipient of millions of dollars of aid from the US, much of which is supposedly to fight drug-trafficking and decrease the migration to the US. But drug trafficking continues, since it has deep roots in politicians and in other elites. 

And migration continues, since many people see little hope for the future and there is a real lack of security for many people in the large cities, as well as for opposition politicians and human rights advocates. 

It doesn’t look good.

But I’ll try to write later this week on some events that might give a bit of hope.