Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mission Month

Thursday and Friday last week were cold and rainy. Thursday afternoon the outdoor thermometer at the Catholic University campus read 15° Celsius – about 59° Fahrenheit. It felt colder since it was so damp. Friday I was inside most of the day since I went to a workshop on the rights of the child where I got a chance to meet some of the people her working on children’s issues. Saturday it was still cold, with some light showers, but no sun.

But the sun was visible on Sunday, October 28, when I went to Dulce Nombre de Copán for Mass and to attend the celebration of the month of Missions.

In the Honduran church, almost every month has a theme: August is the month of the family, September celebrates the Bible, and October is the month of Missions. Throughout the Catholic world the third Sunday is Mission Sunday.

In the parish of Dulce Nombre de Maria, base community members from one sector of the parish spent a day evangelizing in another sector, visiting from door to door. There are probably more than one hundred base communities in the parish and so a good number of people participated throughout the parish.

The end of the month was celebrated with a special Mass and festival of song in Dulce Nombre.

I arrived a little early and talked with a few young guys who had been part of the mission effort the day before. One wore a t-shirt that read “Upper Iowa Youth Soccer.” We talked and I found out that of the seven guys only three were in school. The guy with the Iowa shirt was illiterate and hadn’t ever gone to school. Why? his parents had died and he had to work on the land to support the family.

After Mass the mission festival was held in the parish hall, packed with several hundred people. There were a wide range of performances – including a few skits with kids. A number of people had taken the pastor’s challenge to heart and had written songs – both music and lyrics – with a mission theme. The two best groups were all-male groups from small villages. One sang ranchero style, but both had four or five stringed instruments.

I was really impressed at the talent there is in these villages and so I am looking forward to visits to these areas. I’m going out to one area the weekend of November 11-13 and another two weeks later.

This week is fairly full. A faculty member at the Catholic University campus has agreed to help begin a series of meetings of professors to talk about their faith and their vocation as teachers; the first is Thursday. This Saturday campus ministry is sponsoring a futbolito competition. (Futbolito is a miniature soccer game played in a smaller enclosed space with only five players per team.) I have been asked to lead a little prayer or reflection between the matches! This should be interesting.

Also, with the help of a neighbor’s nephew I’ll soon be meeting with students from the local campus of the national University of Honduras. It looks as if I'll finally have an entry there.

What else? I continue visiting the kindergarten in Colonia Divina Providencia and occasionally helping a sister with her literacy work in the jail. I am waiting for the bishop to get back this week to talk with him about the children’s lunch program which I hope can get started in a few months.

As you can read, I am finding myself a place – or rather a series of places. Keep all of us in your prayers.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


On Wednesday, October 24, my 144th day in Honduras, I got my “Honduran residency.” I took the two and half hour bus ride to San Pedro Sula, spent two hours in the Migration Office where I was finger-printed and photographed and got my constancia (proof) of being recognized as an official Honduran resident. I still have to wait for an official ID card, but now I don’t need to carry around my passport. I am not a Honduran citizen – that would mean giving up my US citizenship – and no matter how critical I may be of the US I still have my roots there.

This week has also been full of little surprises – gifts of hope.

Last Saturday I went to Dulce Nombre de Copán and met with the Parish Council. If all goes well and there are no objections from the bishop, I’ll probably spend about two or more weekends a month out there, helping in many ways. The pastor, Padre Efraín Romero, suggested to the council that I help with some workshops on the bible and on the Mass. This will be a welcome challenge.

By the way, there were about 28 people at the meeting, a few of whom had traveled almost four hours (on foot) to get there! They meet once a month. Talk about dedication.

Tuesday I had the second weekly bible study at the Catholic University. Four people showed up this week – three more than last week’s “crowd.” Each week we’ll be reading the Gospel for the following Sunday and I hope to offer the students a variety ways of reading and interpreting the Gospels.

Next week we will probably begin the first of a series of meetings with faculty members at the Catholic University. The director of the Catholic University has found a faculty member to coordinate these meetings. I’ll be attending these meetings and helping out.

There is also an opening to meet regularly with a group of students from the National University. I’ve been hoping for this for quite some time. Patience is the word here!

These are just a few of the opportunities opening up. I am still visiting the kindergarten in Colonia Divina Providencia here in Santa Rosa about once a week and also going out to the jail every two weeks or so. The last time at the jail one guy wanted me to work with him on English while I worked with another student on reading and multiplication. I sat between the two of them alternating languages.

The lunch program for kids is delayed a bit but i hope we can get it going early next year. I also hope I can find the funds for the community center in Colonia Divina Providencia.

The needs are great, but God is good.

Friday, October 19, 2007


After four months the challenges are becoming clearer.

Though there is a commitment to campus ministry at the Catholic University at the institutional level and from the director of the local campus, there are great challenges to ministry on campus. A few years ago there was, I have been told, a flourishing campus ministry, but in the last year it has weakened almost to the point of dying out.

The causes are many – the challenges of a campus that is much like a commuter school, the intense schedule of classes in a trimester system – four or five classes for each subject a week, the attraction of a consumer culture, the upwardly mobile student body, and the weak support that campus ministry has received and the lack of careful accompaniment of the process in the past year or two. It pains me to write this – partly because this means a long hard process of trying to resurrect the ministry.

Yet in the midst of this I am trying to plug along. Each week I am spending part of Tuesday and almost all of Thursday on campus, sitting around and talking with students and faculty. I am getting to know a lot of them – and, of course, forgetting their names. I have had any number of very interesting conversations. Many of them, especially the guys, are quite surprised to find that I am single and have no children! Machismo runs deep.

I am trying to do a few activities on my own as well as work with the two folks involved in campus ministry. This week I started a bible study on Tuesdays at 4 pm; one person showed up but she promised to try to get more folks for next week.

Friday, October 18, I went back to the kindergarten in Colonia Divina Providencia. Some students will be volunteering there as part of a class which includes 25 hours of volunteer service in the community.

Saturday, I’ll be going out to nearby town of Dulce Nombre de Copán for the parish meeting. If all goes well, I may very well be helping out in this rural parish not far from here for several days each month.

The project of the comedor infantil, the lunch program for children, is on hold for a bit. The bishop is out of the country until the end of October, visiting the US and Europe, mostly in pursuit of support for his opposition to open pit mining and the current mining law. We have to speak with him about where we will house the program, since the first site has not proved feasible.

I continue to go to the kindergarten in Colonia Divina Providencia. I have also been going a few more times to the local jail with the Spanish Franciscan sisters who live on my street. Last Wednesday I was helping one student with writing Spanish sentences I dictated and with simple multiplication as well as helping another young prisoner who wants to learn English.

Speaking of English I have run across Catholic University students who know English – some of whom lived and worked in the US for a number of years. I also keep encountering people who have relatives in the US.

But the real challenges here are more often the challenges of the spirit – how to be patient when things don’t go as planned or when people don’t follow up, how to just try to be present when I’d really like to be doing a lot of projects, how to trust in God’s ways when things seem so complicated and difficult.

Today I ran across this prayer in an e-mail from the National Catholic Rural Life Conference:

We adore you, Jesus our Shepherd and Savior.
And we praise and thank you for your living among us.
We ask you to walk beside your missionaries as they seek to proclaim your Gospel. Cherish, guide, and strengthen them; help them to be patient when they meet frustrations, and encourage them when they are disappointed.
Lead them, we beseech you, along the path you desire for them.
For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever.

Monday, October 08, 2007

How easy it is not to see

Thursday, October 4, I went with 48 students and 4 faculty members of the Santa Rosa campus of the Catholic University to the Catholic University retreat center in Valle de Angeles, a seven to eight hour bus ride for a Professional Life retreat. It is a mandatory retreat for students who would soon be graduating. The faculty and I went so that we could eventually lead the retreat at a site closer to Santa Rosa.

We left in an air-conditioned bus, complete with comfortable reclining seats and a television to watch movies. I settled back, listening to music on my iPod and began reading my book. I didn’t watch most of the movies which were much too violent for me.

I was reading Mark and Louise Zwick’s The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins – which provides an insightful look at the roots of the Catholic Worker, giving a few insights into the saints and authors who inspired Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. I heartily remember it.

At one point I put the book down and looked out the window and saw some shacks at the side of the road. All of a sudden I realized that I felt like I was not in Honduras but in the comfort of the first world, passing through. I realized that it is very easy to fail to see the reality of poverty and misery around me. If it can happen here, how easy it is when the suffering is distant.

The retreat is meant to prepare the graduating students to live their faith in their professions. It was mostly some basic insights into faith and life and I would have liked to see some more direct effort to encourage students to find ways to integrate their faith and their work. There was some reference to the need to care fro the poor and to justice at work, but I would have liked to see a stronger challenge to work for justice in a country rife with corruption and unjust structures in both the private and the public spheres. Maybe my role is to help this happen.

On Sunday. October 7, I went to the Colonia Divina Providencia here in Santa Rosa for what I thought would be a meeting with the community council, but it was with the entire community organization – about 65 people – meeting in a dirt floored, tin roofed structure. They had a report for me on the community – at least 400 people in the community, including 149 children and 111 young people! I have been pulled (not unwillingly) into helping them find finds for the materials for their community center.

Here I saw the reality of poverty – the hopeful and the discouraging. There is the effort to work together to get things done. But Manuela, the president of the community council, spoke about the need to work together; she was particularly strong in her critique of some members of the community who are not cooperating in the communal work.

And so? In the Zwicks’ book on the Catholic Worker they quote the pre-eminent twentieth century Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain who was supportive of the Catholic Worker:

The gospel text “The poor you will always have with you” … means on the contrary: Christ himself will not always be among you, but you will recognize Him in the poor, whom you must love and serve.
Jacques Maritain, Integral Humanism

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Sunday, September 30, I heard two homilies on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

In the neighborhood chapel of San Martín, Padre Fausto talked about this “terrible” parable and spoke forcefully against the imbalance in the world and in the Honduran society where a few have much and don’t see the many poor in our midst. (This week several people have mentioned that the nine or ten families own most of the wealth here.)

A few hours later, Padre Efraín, speaking to a church full of poor campesinos in San Agustín, talked of the need to notice the needy in their midst and to care for them.

I needed to hear both messages as do most of us. This parable is rich; in many ways it presents the Kingdom of God as the exact opposite of the world we live in. But what especially struck me is that though the rich man is unnamed Jesus names the poor man Lazarus – “God helps.” The question that should be asked today in all the churches of the world is “Do you know the names of the poor?”

Sad to say I am very bad with names and so I forget the names of the kids in the kindergarten in the Colonia Divina Providencia.

But I think the first step in combating poverty is getting to know the poor personally. And so I am looking forward to starting up the “comedor infantil” – the lunch program for street kids and other poor kids. I am glad that St. Thomas will be helping this.

I am also hoping that I can raise funds for the community center in Colonia Divina Providencia, a poor community of about 90 families with about 300 children. The city donated the land and the residents will supply the people power; about $5000 is needed for materials and hiring a mason to supervise the work. Last Monday, September 24, Sor Inés took me to meet with the community council, headed by a woman, who explained the project and their hopes for the future. The center will be a good place for workshops for the residents of the community as well as for all sorts of programs. (I can foresee taking students there to help tutor kids.)

This past week there have been a few forward steps in my hopes for involvement of Catholic University students with the poor. A woman student came up to me and we talked briefly about her interest in service. I’ll be meeting with her and a few of her friends this coming week to see what we can do. Saturday, I offered my help to a young professor of a class that gets students involved in service projects; I will be helping two groups to contact two places that need assistance.

But I still hope I can begin to find a rural parish where I can help. Sunday, September 30, I went out to Padre Efraín’s parish, Dulce Nombre de Copán. There was a Mass in San Agustín, about 22 from Dulce Nombre. The church was packed and there were about 18 baptisms after Mass – infants, kids, and two men in their late twenties. There were a fair number of young people since a team from Dulce Nombre had just finished a two day workshop for the youth in the towns that make up this sector of the parish. It was great to see this effort to work with the young and to train youth leaders, especially since probably half of the people in Honduras are under 19 years of age.